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Gauteng Department continues to evict survivors from shelter

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS represents a number of survivors of gender-based violence facing almost constant eviction from a shelter, run by the Gauteng Department of Community Safety

CALS represents a number of survivors of gender-based violence who face almost constant eviction from a gender-based violence shelter, run by the Gauteng Department of Community Safety. Over the past year, these unlawful evictions have seen us successfully defend our clients in court on numerous occasions including during Women’s Month 2019. The Department on Tuesday instituted proceedings for the first time attempting to conduct their evictions from the shelter using the law.

The news that has broken recently of devastating cases of gender-based violence and femicide has drawn renewed attention to these ever-present and pervasive problems. While only a handful of cases have made the news, many more women in South Africa face gender-based violence every day. Many struggle to find help when they need it the most. CALS represents a number of women and their children who have sought help from Gauteng’s ‘flagship’ gender-based violence shelter, run by the Department of Community Safety, only to face eviction from their place of safety.

The Department argues that these vulnerable women are informed when they enter the shelter that they will only be allowed to stay for a period of six months, and they are made to sign agreements acknowledging this. It further claims that those who wish to remain for a longer time are taking up space in the shelter and preventing others from accessing the security and services it is meant to provide. The Department is convinced that the women have been sufficiently prepared to leave and has therefore begun the process of evicting them.

Those running the shelter have taken the decision that women and their children should have only a few months to stay in a place of safety and support after facing violence, most often at the hands of those closest to them. There are currently no regulations in place governing gender-based violence shelters, and no law which supports this cut-off period. There is further no rational reason for it, and no evidence to suggest that this would be long enough for all victims of domestic or gender-based violence to be able to rebuild their lives and move on from the shelter.

On the contrary, experience suggests that this is not nearly enough time for many of the women who have found their way to the shelter. Many of those coming from situations of domestic violence have not only faced physical, emotional or sexual abuse, but also economic violence. Many have no jobs and have difficulty finding work, are not qualified and do not have other resources or support structures to draw on – otherwise they would not have turned to the shelter for assistance to begin with. 

When they are evicted, the choice a number of the women and mothers face is either living on the street or returning to their abusive partners: both are places of violence where they risk being further violated and traumatised. The Courts have acknowledged that shelters are homes, and that people cannot be evicted if they will be rendered homeless without having a plan in place for alternative accommodation. The women in the shelters cannot contract out of their rights. They also cannot be blamed for the shelter being under-resourced and unable to accommodate the number of people who need their services – services that government is obligated to provide.

We are further dismayed with the manner in which the matter is being handled by the authorities and emphasise the need for the utmost respect for the dignity, privacy and confidentiality of all the women and children concerned.

Shelters perform an essential role in providing support to women and children in crisis. CALS shares with the Department the goal of ensuring that as many people as possible have access to these services. What is needed is not to evict vulnerable people to make room for others, but to ensure that our shelters are properly resourced and able to provide quality services to all those in need. We call on provincial and national government to address this crisis urgently by putting in place regulations for gender-based violence shelters, developing more long-term housing solutions for those who need them, providing sufficient funding for all shelters and ensuring that there are enough shelters to meet the need.

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