Lawyers for Human Rights celebrates the landmark judgment handed down by the Supreme Court of Appeal today, tackling a pressing human rights issue that has been largely ignored in South African metros: a pattern of confiscating and destroying the property of the poorest members of society.

This case concerned a group of almost 30 homeless people who have lived on a traffic island under the R31 highway bridge in Johannesburg for the past four years. The community made their living by collecting recyclable material to sell, and their homes were constructed out leftover material - cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, and plastics. Each morning, they would dismantle and pack away the make-shift shelters, and storing all their personal possessions including food, money, blankets, clothing, and identity documents while venturing to work.

The JMPD arrived unannounced one day last year and confiscated and destroyed all of this property, kicking and spraying the residents with pepper spray in the process.

“Our clients lost everything it had in an instant”, said Thandeka Chauke, attorney for Lawyers for Human Rights.  “The JMPD stated that they had embarked on this action as part of an ongoing ‘clean-up operation’ in terms of the by-laws, but the impact was devastating and dehumanizing for these already-vulnerable individuals”.

After Lawyers for Human Rights brought a case challenging the constitutionality of this conduct, the High Court found that the JMPD’s conduct “was a cynical and mean spirited act deserving of censure” but failed to grant relief to the residents for their loss of property. 

Today, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, calling the JMPD’s actions “disrespectful and demeaning” and granting an order that the destruction of our client’s property was unlawful and unconstitutional.  Each of LHR’s clients must be paid R1 500 in compensation for the loss of their property and the gross violation of their rights to dignity and property.  

“This judgment is a landmark victory for homeless people” said Chauke.  “It must also serve as a critical reminder to all of us to recognize and respect the human dignity of all people, including the poor.  The judgement is a warning to those municipalities who instead of finding sustainable solutions to homelessness resort to demolishing, destroying, and burning poor people’s homes”.

For further details on the case, please contact:

Thandeka Chauke: 012 320 2943/ 060 378 2468

Louise Du Plessis, Land and Housing Programme Manager on 082 346 0744