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The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) shares news on its work on electrification provision in Slovo Park, its participation in a panel discussion on housing struggles and land occupations, and a court case dealing with price reservation for repossessed homes. 

Slovo Park community has access to electricity after more than 20 years of broken promises

For more than 20 years, the Slovo Park community outside Nancefield in Johannesburg were promised access to formal services and housing. On 30 July 2018, after years of government engagement, litigation and court judgments, the community of almost 10 000 people or 3 734 households have access to electricity for the first time.

The electrification of the settlement comes after a court judgment in the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court which compelled the City of Johannesburg to apply to the Gauteng provincial government for funding to upgrade Slovo Park in terms of the Upgrading of Informal Settlements Programme (UISP) contained in National Housing Code of 2009. In the judgment, Acting Judge Strauss found that the UISP was binding on the City and that its decision “to completely ignore” the policy was “unreasonable”, “not inclusive” and in breach of the housing rights of the Slovo Park residents. The Judge then set aside the City’s plan to relocate the residents, and directed the City to make the appropriate application to the provincial MEC for Human Settlements for a grant to upgrade the Slovo Park informal settlement in situ.

Since 2016, a Slovo Park Task Team has been established to implement the UISP in Slovo Park. The Task Team consists of the Slovo Park Community Development Forum (SPCDF) (a local community-based organisation), SERI, the City of Johannesburg, City Power, and provincial and national government officials from the Department of Human Settlements. The electrification of Slovo Park is the first provision of basic services at the settlement that has been installed in situ after a process of inclusive community participation and in accordance with the UISP.

SERI represented the Slovo Park community during the litigation and participated in Slovo Park Task Team negotiations.

  • Read the full press statement here
  • Read more about the case and find the judgment and all the court papers here
  • Read more about the Slovo Park community’s struggle for in situ upgrading here and here

SERI participates in panel on housing struggles and land occupations at the Jozi Book Fair

On 2 September 2018, SERI researcher Tiffany Ebrahim participated in a panel discussion, entitled “Current Housing Struggles and Land Occupation in Gauteng”, at the Jozi Book Fair at the Workers Museum on Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg. The panel, which was organised by the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG), sought to unpack the housing and land challenges facing the urban poor in Gauteng and how the state has responded to these challenges.

Tiffany's presentation was primarily focused on the existing constitutional, legislative and policy framework governing land, housing and evictions in South Africa. She also emphasised the mechanisms though which the security of tenure of informal settlement residents could be strengthened and how the state's ability to expropriate land could be used as an additional mechanism to realise the housing and land rights of the urban poor.

Tiffany was joined on the panel by a representative from Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Gauteng Civics Association (GCA) - a community-based organisation that was established in May 2017 in response to a number of housing and development struggles facing communities in the south of Johannesburg, including Eldorado Park, Ennerdale and Freedom Park. 

Johannesburg High Court rules that repossessed homes may no longer be auctioned off without reserve prices

On 12 September, a full bench of the Johannesburg High Court held that repossessed homes may no longer be sold at auction without reserve prices.

The case deals with process that a bank is required to follow to sell a person's home in execution. A sale in execution or bank repossession takes place when a debtor is unable to repay the monthly installments in terms of a loan they owe to a bank and the debtor’s property is sold at a public auction by the sheriff of the court to pay off the debt. Often, the property sold will be the debtor’s home. To sell a debtor’s home, a creditor or bank must approach a court to get a court order allowing it to sell the home.

In order to protect the rights of debtors, section 129(3) of the National Credit Act allows the debtor to “reinstate” a loan agreement at any time before the bank seeks to execute the loan agreement against him or her by paying their arrears and the bank’s reasonable costs occurred for enforcing the agreement. 

Since section 129(3) of the National Credit Act has taken effect, the practice in the Johannesburg High Court has been to postpone applications to have a person's home declared specifically executable for a certain period in order to enable a debtor to bring up their arrears, thereby reinstating the credit agreement and ensuring that they do not lose their home.

The question raised in this case was about whether courts have the power to postpone a money judgment against a debtor for determination simultaneously with the application for leave to execute against the debtor’s home. A question that is linked to this is whether, if courts do not have this power, the execution of a money judgment precludes a debtor from reinstating the mortgage loan agreement in terms of section 129(3) of the National Credit Act.

SERI was invited by the Johannesburg High Court to make a submission as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case. SERI argued that courts have the power to postpone money judgments and even have the power to refuse money orders in cases where the banks have established a contractual right to it. If the courts did not have this power, the purposes of section 129(3) and the possibility of reinstatement would be circumvented. SERI also argues that allowing a bank to claim a money judgment would preclude a debtor from reinstating the mortgage agreement, which would effectively mean that banks can circumvent section 129(3) of the National Credit Act. 

A full bench of the Johannesburg High Court held consistently with SERI’s submissions, that the application for the money judgment should always be postponed for determination together with the application for leave to execute. The Court further held that a reserve price should, save in exceptional circumstances, always be set. This means that repossessed homes may no longer be sold at auction without reserve prices.

  • Read more about the case and access court papers here
  • Read SERI's guide on preventing or opposing a sale in execution here

Photo: SERI

 

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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.

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