RIGHT TO DIGNITY
Court upholds human rights of waste reclaimers in Joburg eviction case
Judge Greg Wright said while the rights of the landowner and city are important, the dignity of the reclaimers must be maintained as well.
Waste reclaimers’ constitutional rights to dignity and to make a living were upheld when the Johannesburg High Court ordered the Johannesburg Municipality to provide 107 reclaimers with temporary accommodation that will allow them to continue with their reclaiming activities, before moving them from privately owned land they’re occupying in Midrand.
Some of the waste reclaimers have been living on the land for more than 10 years. The land is owned by Rycloff-Beleggings, which wants to evict the waste reclaimers to develop the land, but the reclaimers approached the court in May 2019, demanding alternative accommodation.
Judge Greg Wright ruled on 4 October that the group must move from the land by April 2023 on condition that the City of Johannesburg finds them temporary accommodation and gives them a written notice in March 2023.
Tebogo Mokoena* (34), who has lived in an underdeveloped property in Midrand since 2019, says they have built a relationship with the local businesses.
“They keep your materials for you. Some collect K4 boxes, glasses and cans. We have a good relationship with the complexes, garages and schools nearby — they keep the recyclables out for us and we get a lot of material so we can feed our families,” said Mokoena.
“I am excited that we won’t be harassed by police any more… because you would leave at 4am to go as far as Kyalami or Centurion for stuff to reclaim and [when] you come back, your shack is gone, IDs, everything.”
Mokoena was a human resources manager before she lost her job in 2016. She says reclaiming helps her send money home to her family, but she is treated like a criminal because of how she makes a living.
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“I don’t know why people think maybe you are dumb, a criminal or something because you are looking through bins. People look down on you; my family doesn’t even know this is how I make money. They are too judgmental, but I know what I’m doing… I could have turned to prostitution,” said Mokoena.
Judge Wright said while the rights of the landowner and city are important, the dignity of the reclaimers must be maintained as well. He found that relocating the reclaimers to a place where they cannot earn a basic living as they currently do, “would leave them at risk of not being able to maintain their dignity and care for their children.
“It would be unfair and therefore unconstitutional to uphold the other parties’ rights while the reclaimers go hungry. Furthermore, the rights of children are paramount in cases involving children such as the present one.”
The City of Johannesburg was ordered to provide the reclaimers with land where they can live, and lawfully and safely collect and sort their reclaimed waste.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Alberts Farm evictions: City of Joburg and Chief of Police acted unlawfully”
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) represented the community, whose members make a living collecting, sorting and selling recyclable waste.
Khululiwe Bhengu, an attorney with Seri, said the ruling reaffirmed what the Constitutional Court has said in previous eviction cases.
“Eviction orders should provide sufficient protection for the dignity of those to be moved. The ability of people to earn money and support themselves and their families is an important component of the right to human dignity. Without it, they face humiliation and degradation,” said Bhengu.
“This ruling recognises the right to work in eviction cases and recognises the use of land for other purposes other than shelter. In this case, reclaimers use the land not only as their home but to make a living.” DM/MC
*Not her real name.