Pooh-slinging Slums Act showdown at Con Court
NIREN TOLSI | DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - May 16 2009 05:55
Winnie the Pooh references jostled with rigorous examination of the constitutionality of KwaZulu-Natal's Prevention and Elimination of Slums Act at the Constitutional Court on Thursday.
If it survives the challenge by shack-dwellers' organisation Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Act could serve as a model for similar measures in other provinces.
Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett, acting for the national and KwaZulu-Natal ministers of housing, both given unprecedented powers by the legislation, implored the Bench not to adopt an "Eeyore-ish" interpretation of the Act. (Eeyore is Winnie the Pooh's pessimistic sidekick.)
This elicited a searing response from the Bench, with Judge Albie Sachs noting the "incompatibility" between the "stiff language of the Act" and the "humane language of the Constitution".
Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke added that the legislation "has that focus on smashing slums and also making other people do it".
The Act allows for municipalities to fine or jail private landowners for not evicting unlawful inhabitants from their land in a time frame determined by the provincial housing minister.
Abahlali brought the Constitutional Court challenge after KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Vuka Tshabalala found earlier this year that the Act did not violate the Constitution.
The shackdwellers' movement argued that the Act deals with the national competency of land and land tenure, not housing, and therefore falls outside the legislative powers of the province.
It submitted that the powers to evict given to landowners and municipalities contravene the government's constitutional imperative to ensure the progressive realisation of citizens' rights to housing.
Abahlali members travelled by bus to Johannesburg on Wednesday night to attend the hearing.
Also in attendance were members of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and the Landless People's Movement in Gauteng.
At the time of going to press, the hearing was still under way. Judgment is expected in August.