The Judge ruling over a court battle – involving Salt River residents fighting eviction from their homes – this week questioned the reasonableness of the City’s housing programmes and asked whether exporting the poorest of the poor to the periphery and banishing people to the outskirts wasn’t giving effect to spatial apartheid.
The Western Cape High Court hearings were streamed live on Zoom, and after two days in court Judge Mark Sher on Tuesday recognised that the case presented complex legal issues.
“The case has the potential to have a far-reaching impact on the devastating effects of gentrification and the displacement of poor and working class families from well-located areas in Cape Town,” Sher said.
The matter centers around a group of Bromwell Street residents in Salt River, who are challenging a City of Cape Town housing programme which would see them lose their homes to the owner of Woodstock Hub.
The Bromwell Street residents believe the City’s housing programmes are unconstitutional because they exclude temporary emergency housing for people at risk of eviction.
Ndifuna Ukwazi Law Clinic have taken up the cudgels for the residents. The law clinic’s spokesperson, Zacharia Mashele, said: “The only temporary emergency housing the City provides for poor and working class families is in far-flung temporary relocation areas and incremental development areas, like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier.”
In court on Tuesday, the Bromwell Street residents’ advocate Sheldon Magardie, said many of the residents have resisted apartheid-era forced removals for decades and, more recently, resisting displacement as a result of the soaring rents and property prices caused by gentrification.
Advocate Magardie presented evidence to show that the City has done nothing to combat the displacement of poor and working class families in the area despite being aware of the negative consequences of gentrification.
The City’s advocate Karrisha Pillay argued that the City’s housing programme was reasonable and constitutional as the City realised people’s right to housing.
She asserted that the City is not constitutionally obligated to provide temporary emergency accommodation in a specific area, in this case in the inner-city.
Advocate Pillay cited budget constraints, a scarcity of available land and the need to comply with various other housing programmes as reasons why the City could not provide temporary emergency housing in the inner-city.
She also said providing temporary emergency housing in the inner-city would negatively affect the City’s other housing delivery programmes.
Judge Sher questioned the reasonableness of the City’s housing programmes and asked whether exporting the poorest of the poor to the periphery and banishing people to the outskirts wasn’t giving effect to spatial apartheid.
Sher said: “There is no emergency housing in the city anywhere. So poor people must be exported out there to the outskirts, where we don’t see them or hear from them. Can that be right?”
Sher said the court needed to carefully consider the complex issues raised and will hand down judgment soon.