South African Constitutional Court orders “meaningful engagement” in urgent forced eviction
The South African Constitutional Court has extended the Olivia Road case to urgent forced evictions, requiring meaningful engagement between the local authority and tenants—or occupiers in this case—before eviction can be deemed constitutional under the right to housing.
The applicants, amounting to some 200 families, had lived in rented dwellings in the backyards of landlords that allegedly charged unreasonably high rents and were often evicted arbitrarily. The majority of applicants had been on Govan Mbeki Municipality’s housing waiting list since 2002, but had not yet received housing. Conditions became intolerable and the applicants moved to land owned by the Municipality where they erected residential structures without consent. In 2013, the Municipality successfully obtained an order to evict the applicants and demolish the “illegal shacks”. Upon eviction, the applicants moved from place to place, until they returned to a portion of the originally occupied land that had been vacated in anticipation of development of a pre-primary school facility. The applicants made several attempts to meet officials of the Municipality in order to find an amicable solution, however the Municipality proceeded in seeking an urgent order of eviction that was successful in the High Court.
The case raised important constitutional issues relating to the right to access housing and the eviction of people from their homes under Section 26 of the South African Constitution, which includes the right to due process with regard to court-ordered eviction and demolition. The Constitutional Court found that the applicants were prejudiced by the fact that they were deprived of any meaningful engagement with the Municipality as required following the Olivia Road case, which applies even where the eviction is considered urgent.
The Court ordered the Municipality and the applicants to engage with each other meaningfully to come up with a reasonable solution that accords with the applicants’ rights and the Municipality’s obligations under Section 26. To facilitate such engagement, the Municipality was further ordered to proactively seek the participation of the applicants through measures of its choosing that facilitate said meaningful engagement.
Click here for the full judgment in Ngomane & ors v Govan Mbeki Municipality.
Image: Constitutional Court of South Africa logo.