PRESS STATEMENT: Mr Godfrey Mtenje and his family fight to inhabit a shack

19 March 2018

The matter of Mr Godfrey Mtenje will continue be heard in the Land Claims Court of South Africa on the 20th of March 2018. Lawyers for Human Rights (“LHR”) represents Mr Mtenje and his family who reside in dilapidated tents on a plot in Hercules, Pretoria.

Mr Mtenje and his family arrived at the plot in 1991 where they lawfully took occupation of a brick cottage at the back of the main property. After residing there for a number of years, the land owner unlawfully demolished not only their home  but the home of two other families and rendered them all homeless. In order to assist the families, Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality offered the affected parties emergency housing in the form of army style tents.

12 years later the Mtenje family are still residing in the emergency tents which are now no longer suitable for human living. The family has been battling the elements for many years and in an effort to  safeguard their belongings and their human dignity erected a shack structure in which to live in. The land owner then brought an interdict to prevent the family from taking occupation of the structure and applied for an order to demolish the family’s new home.  

The applicants in this matter rely on the sections contained in the National Building regulations and Standards Act, that requires all buildings to have approved building plans. The applicants are joined by AfriSake as Amicus Curiae in this matter who also argue that property rights as enshrined by the Constitution need to be protected.  The Mtenje family are ESTA occupiers and as such have stronger tenure rights on the land as opposed to other occupiers. The Mtenje family argue that according to the requirements of ESTA the landowner must replace the original structure she unlawfully demolished or allow for the family to take occupation of the shack as their dignity is currently being infringed upon. The Mtenje family have launched a challenge of constitutional invalidity on certain sections of the National Building regulations and Standards Act in light of the fact that the requirements for approved building plans  endangers the lives of millions of South Africans who reside in shacks as their homes can be demolished.

“It is unconscionable to think that in our current constitutional dispensation and with the housing jurisprudence protecting the right to adequate housing, that a family must still fight for the right to merely inhabit a shack and protect their human dignity. Land owners must recognise that their rights to title cannot trump the rights of occupiers who have lived there lawfully for many years. Land must serve the interests of all parties, and not only the interests of those who can afford to own it.” Afika Nqeto of Lawyers for Human Rights.

For more information on this matter contact Louise du Plessis – Land and Housing Programme manager on 082 346 0744 or Carol Mohlala- Media and Communications Manager on 079 238 9826.