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Victory for shelter residents

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Constitutional Court declares City of Johannesburg shelter rules unconstitutional

Today, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment in an appeal brought by residents of the Ekuthuleni Shelter against the City of Johannesburg and Metropolitan Evangelical Services (MES). The Court declared that the rules implemented in Ekuthuleni Shelter which force families to separate and lock residents out of their homes during the day are unconstitutional, impacting on their rights to dignity, privacy and freedom and security. The judgment interdicts the City of Johannesburg and MES from enforcing the rules and orders the City to pay the applicants’ costs.

Ekuthuleni Shelter has been used as alternative accommodation by the City of Johannesburg since 2012. The Shelter is managed by MES and operates under a ‘managed care model’. The most troubling aspects of this model include rules which force residents to leave their homes between the hours of 8:00 and 17:30 on weekdays and 9:00 and 17:30 on weekends and which prevent spouses and families from living together. The residents of Ekuthuleni, represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), took the matter to court, arguing that these rules infringe on their constitutional rights. The matter was heard in the High Court and subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, where it was heard in February 2017.

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), represented by the Legal Resources Centre, intervened in the matter as ‘friend of the court’, focusing on the gendered nature of the rules and the need for gender-sensitive policies on housing. Our submissions argue that the shelter rules not only infringe on residents’ rights to dignity, privacy and freedom and security, but have a disproportionate impact on women. The lockout rule puts women at an increased risk of experiencing gender-based violence, and the gender segregation rule deprives them of intimacy and support from their partners. The Shelter rules place particularly unfair burdens on women and therefore also infringe on their right to equality.

The Constitutional Court found today that the shelter rules infringe on the residents’ rights to dignity, privacy and freedom and security. The Court further interdicted the City of Johannesburg from imposing these rules on the residents, saying “…the Constitution confers the rights guaranteed by section 10, 12 and 14 on everyone, regardless of where they are at a given time. These rights attach to every person and are enjoyed everywhere in the country.”

“This is a great victory not only for the residents but for all people facing homelessness and awaiting temporary emergency accommodation in South Africa,” says Zeenat Sujee, attorney at CALS. “The judgment reinforces the City’s obligation to protect peoples rights to dignity, privacy and freedom and security.”

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