Despite the existence of legislation regulating and precluding illegal evictions millions of poor living in rural areas and informal settlements continue to be ejected from their dwellings daily. Molatelo Mohale argues the state can do more to stop this

In 2019 a group of Western Cape women living on farms disrupted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech during the commemoration of Women’s Day in Paarl to demanded that he fulfill a promise he made in 2014 to sign a letter declaring evictions illegal.

Fast forward 2020, during the corona pandemic, the National Command Council heeded to the demand of 27 non-governmental organisations/civil society organisations to declare evictions illegal, at least during the lockdown.

This interim moratorium on evictions brought excitement especially to the vulnerable residents that evictions will be a thing of the past – at least until the lockdown is lifted. However, this excitement was short-lived to some.

After the evictions were declared illegal during the lockdown, 49 dwellings which accommodate 130 people living informal settlement of Empolweni, Western Cape were unlawfully demolished.

On the same breath 80 households accommodating 160 (107 children, 43 women) farm dwellers houses in Edington farm, Tzaneen, Limpopo was demolished without a court order and left occupants to freeze in cold conditions.

On the Edington farm, there are 60 years olds born on the farm which according to ESTA, are exempted from evictions as the latter are long term occupiers.

The trajectory of government suppressing the marginalised communities against their rights is appalling. The fact that stopping evictions was never prioritized by the authorities even before the lockdown came to effect is an indication of negligence and incompetent lawmakers.

The evictions and related threats destroy lives under government’s watch without objective intervention. 

Since the dawning democracy, millions of largely poor South Africans livings on farms, communal areas, and informal settlements fall victim to evictions.

The evictees were compelled to either relocate to be incorporated into unfamiliar socio-economic conditions while others are evicted without the provision of alternative dwellings. The farmers, companies and the state are largely the culprits orchestrating evictions.

 The evictees often find it almost impossible to adjust to a new environment due to structural issues such as unemployment and their lack of skills required to survive in the new environment.

The evictions subject the latter to traumatic situations and negligence by the authorities. The evicted families are compelled to carry the unbearable burden and potentially exposed to temptations to awry succumbing to the pressure of fending for and protecting their dependants. 

 Since South Africa gained independence in 1994, two key laws were legislated with regards to security of land tenure.

These are the Extension Security of Tenure Act 6 of 1997 [ESTA] which regulates the social relations between the occupiers and landowners. ESTA regulates amongst other things the provision of due process to be adhered to when eviction is undertaken.

This includes the instance where eviction is inevitable and stipulates that the authorities and the plaintiff should provide alternative accommodation.

The Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act – IPILRA protects the occupiers and property owners through vesting consensual obligations to curb possible dispossession and marginalization when socio-economic development takes place on their land. 

Despite the existence of this legislation regulating and precluding illegal evictions, millions of the poor living in the far-flung rural areas, and informal settlements continue to be evicted from their dwellings daily.

This practice has somehow been normalised over the years. The state tends to either disengage or take sides in matters that affect land parcels under private owners and traditional leaders. 

The long-standing civil society organisations’ demand to declare a moratorium on evictions has been visibly ignored by the authorities despite empirical evidence that evictions are destroying people’s lives.

In many instances, the residential rights are closely linked with labor-related activities largely on farms and informal settlements. Evictions are violent in nature and disrupt the livelihoods of the already disadvantaged and impoverished communities.

 I am appalled that in the 26 years of governance, the African National Congress (ANC) has dismally failed the residents. The ruling party has no strategy about halting evictions.

As thorny as the eviction is to ordinary citizens, the ANC run government’s intervention leaves a lot to be desired. There is nothing to show from several fluffy deliberations in the conferences, workshops and high-level platforms that were convened previously.

In 2014 under the former President Jacob Zuma’s administration, Cyril Ramaphosa who was then the deputy president announced that evictions would be declared unlawful. However, he never mentioned the commencement of the same. 

This has exposed some state organs and private property owners that contravened the National Disaster Management Act (Lockdown regulations), and ESTA to name just two without facing the consequences. 

The trend of evictions is haphazardly done largely by the private property owners and government which in many instances contravene the legislation. For instance, on farms, it is sort of normalized that a farm owner can influence the police to execute eviction without a court order. This is largely done because the police officers are not conversant with the key legislation. 

The solution to this conundrum is to stop evictions and only the government can do this. The state as the authorized body can make this call to ensure that the dignity and the rights of the vulnerable residents of this country are protected. This could be followed by an introduction of new legislation that prohibits evictions because the same is against human rights. 

Molatelo Mohale is a Programme Officer at Nkuzi Development Association, a land rights support organisation based in Limpopo Province and a fellow of Jai Jagat 2020, an international movement advocating for justice and peace.

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