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Johannesburg Mayor must address the inner city housing crisis

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS condemns Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba's recent comments about "so-called" human rights lawyers

CALS is aware of Herman Mashaba’s most recent concerning remarks about human rights lawyers ‘obstructing’ the City of Johannesburg’s work in realising its constitutional obligations to the poor residing in inner city Johannesburg.

What is clear is that there is an enduring housing crisis in the inner city. It is a crisis that is longstanding and severe. It is a crisis threatening thousands of some of the most vulnerable people in our country – including children, people with disabilities and the elderly. There are few organisations committed to ensuring that the poor are not left homeless by evictions and are able to access the basic services that they are entitled to by law. These human rights organisations, like SERI and others, operate on the basis of instructions from their clients – the very people that the City is supposed to serve.

Most recently, SERI notified the City’s officials of the potentially dangerous conditions in which their clients were living in a building at 39 to 41 Davies Street. Other public interest organisations have similarly alerted the City to the state of other ‘bad buildings’ in the inner city, and received no response. At Davies Street, the building continued to deteriorate until a wall collapsed recently, killing several people inside.

Instead of taking responsibility for this disaster and using this as an opportunity to address the current management and maintenance issues of inner city buildings, Mr Mashaba has declared that this is the fault of the very organisations that alerted the City to these problems in the first place. Calling the work of such organisations ‘obstructive’ is not only misleading, it diverts time and energy away from the real work that needs to be done.

Residents of the City of Johannesburg already living in poverty deserve to stay in buildings where they feel dignified, their privacy is not compromised and in particular, their lives are not threatened by unsafe conditions. We call on the City to urgently develop, share and implement a workable plan that addresses the housing crisis in a way which respects the law and its obligations to protect fundamental human rights.

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