Land and housing unit additional information
As part of its strategic litigation activities, LHR commenced litigating on land and housing issues in 2006 when it formed the Land and Housing Unit. The unit operates under the Strategic Litigation Unit under the supervision of Advocate Rudolph Jansen and Louise du Plessis.
In the urban context, the unit focuses its work on large scale evictions and housing needs. In the rural areas it focuses on historical land claims in terms of the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994. Rural land claims pose a number of peculiar and difficult challenges. Although the right to claim dispossessed land is a constitutional right in terms of Section 25(7), claimants bear particularly heavy and technical burdens of proof.
The claims invariably involve dispossessions that occurred decades ago, sometimes as long as 80 or 90 years. In addition, the dispossessions were almost always of unregistered rights, making proof thereof very difficult. Rural land claims that have been referred to the Land Claims Court need high level legal assistance by experienced land lawyers.
It is this service that the unit provides to communities who have been unable to reclaim their land through the mediation processes of the Land Claims Commission. It is public knowledge that very few of these claims have been settled and literally hundreds such claims are on their way to the court to be adjudicated.
The unit presently assists five rural communities with a combined membership of approximately 60 000 people with their land claims over land comprising some hundred thousand hectares. In this way the unit does its share to ensure that land reform in South Africa takes place orderly and in accordance with the rule of law.
In the next five to 10 years this historical land reform process will be in need of substantial resources, and LHR would like to play a role in this regard.
LHR is providing assistance in matters involving large scale urban evictions, and the concomitant housing rights of the urban homeless.
Despite the very clear and unambiguous injunction of Section 25(1) of the South African Constitution that no one may be evicted without a court order, evictions without a warrant remain a problem and many vulnerable persons have no access to legal services to assist them with the enforcement of their rights. One of the first cases taken on by the unit in March 2006, ended up in the Supreme Court of Appeal and has been reported as Tswelopele and others v Minister of Safety and Security and others ( 2007). In this matter the unit succeeded in establishing law that grants victims of unlawful evictions urgent restorative relief. The relief was framed directly on constitutional grounds, in stead of common law relief that posed many technical problems. Again, in this way, the unit helped develop our constitutional law. Despite the finalisation of the eviction case, the unit remains involved with the Tswelopele community and their continuing quest for decent urban housing.
The unit believes strongly that it should do more than just avert illegal evictions, but should be involved in pursuing the positive housing rights of its clients.
The unit has succeeded in averting thousands of illegal evictions in its short existence.
At present it is involved in four cases before court that affects 1 800 households. It is also negotiating on behalf of many other communities where there have been threats of eviction.
The following communities are being assisted:
The Mkondeni informal settlement in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal. An eviction order has already been granted by the High Court against this community of 500 families and the matter is proceeding to the Supreme Court of Appeal. The SCA hearing will probably take place towards the end of 2008.
The Pomfret community (North West)
The Lanseria community (Gauteng)
Mabopane communities (North West)
Winnie Mandela Informal Settlement (Thembisa - Gauteng)
To contact the Land and Housing Unit, email:
Louise du Plessis
louise [at] communitylaw [dot] co [dot] za
nathaniah [at] communitylaw [dot] co [dot] za (subject: Land%20and%20Housing%20query)