Home South African Moratorium placed on evictions, asset seizures

Moratorium placed on evictions, asset seizures

78
SHARE

The moratorium means no one can be evicted or have their property seized until after the lockdown, which, for now, is intended to cease on April 16.

While many South Africans come to grips with the practicalities of the Covid-19 lockdown – no non-essentials such as dog walking, outdoor exercise, cigarettes or booze – the Justice Ministry has heeded calls by social justice movements to place a moratorium on evictions and asset seizures.

The moratorium means no one can be evicted or have their property seized until after the lockdown, which, for now, is intended to cease on April 16.

In a letter to the Presidency, social cluster ministers and the Sheriff’s Board, 27 social justice movements called on the government to halt evictions of people and property during the Covid-19 state of national disaster. That, they said, was essential to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and protect vulnerable groups.

The law should also not prioritise property rights over basic human rights to health, housing and adequate sanitation.

Citing an international precedent set in US cities of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Spain and other countries, the activists called on the government to urgently take “any other steps that may be necessary to address, prevent an escalation of the national state of disaster, or to alleviate, contain and minimise the effects of the national state of disaster”.

They said those facing evictions were more vulnerable to the health risks posed by Covid-19 where eviction would lead to homelessness. Urgent attention must be given to those who had nowhere else to go; those facing life on the streets and those in emergency alternative accommodation living in conditions that could foster Covid-19’s spread.

In his address two weeks ago announcing the national state of disaster, President Cyril Ramaphosa told South Africans to take precautions, but the ability to do so was based on a level of privilege and access to amenities that many people did not have, the groups argued, adding those most vulnerable included people in informal settlements, on commercial farms, the homeless, facing homelessness and displaced by legal and illegal evictions.

“Evictions and displacement will place a greater number of vulnerable people at risk. One cannot practise physical distancing should you find yourself and your belongings on the side of the road or in an open space and exposed to the public with no means of protection. One cannot practise a heightened level of hygiene by washing hands in the recommended manner where the only access to water is a communal standpipe and shared ablution facilities in an informal settlement or in a transitional relocation area,” they said.

With precarious living conditions closely linked to exposure and spread of infectious diseases, especially respiratory, the groups said the government had a duty to protect those most at risk.

They also called on the Board of Sheriffs and police to instruct their members to halt the execution of the eviction orders and for municipalities to stop deploying the Red Ants and other law enforcement units.

“This is especially important even when a writ of execution has been issued but the evictees face displacement or homelessness. One cannot, in good conscience forcibly remove people from their homes, place their possessions on the roadside and leave them to fend for themselves when there is a heightened risk of exposure to Covid-19 in these circumstances.

“We also call on the SAPS, in particular, to prevent and stop landlords and landowners from carrying out unscrupulous and unlawful evictions of people from their homes where no court order has been granted.”

On Thursday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola responded, issuing directions under regulation 10 of the Disaster Management Act, which apply until midnight on April 16 – or whenever lockdown ceases.

Among others, the directive meant that cases not identified as urgent and essential services would not be placed on the court roll; all criminal trials enrolled during the lockdown were to be postponed to a date after this period, unless it was in the interests of justice; awaiting trial detainees held would not be brought to any court or court precinct, unless it’s for first appearance; bail applications would be made with the judicial officers involved in the matters; and those accused of petty offences must be released and warned to appear in court on a future date.

Civil matters, which were identified as not urgent and essential services, would also not be placed on the court roll.

And all evictions and execution of attachment orders, both movable and immovable, including sales in execution,were suspended with immediate effect.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

** Receive IOL’s top stories via Whatsapp by sending your name to 0745573535