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Some good news this month
25 February 2008

February means Valentine's Day, the State of Nation and Province addresses, an important Constitutional Court ruling - and ballet.

Neil Fraser
Neil Fraser

FEBRUARY is quite an exciting month, what with Valentine's Day, the end of the financial year, national and provincial State of the Nation speeches and State of the Province reports, national budgets et al. Add to that a milestone judgment on evictions from the Constitutional Court, and it's been quite a month.

I liked the Valentine's Day essay in Time Magazine, "The Best Way to Spend Valentine's Day is Don't" and, after finding that shops were charging R79,95 for six red roses I decided that it was right. But my favourite city-related story regarding Valentine's Day is about the mayor of an American city who was running under a particularly tight budget while simultaneously getting a great deal of flack for the extensive number of potholes in his city's roads.

In desperation, he devised a plan. He had the potholes surveyed for geographical position and size. Having obtained quotes for fixing different size potholes, he proceeded to sell each pothole to a citizen. They could then go out and paint a heart around "their pothole", complete with the initials of their beloved. After Valentine's Day he could afford to have all the potholes repaired - great lateral thinking!

I'm not so sure about great lateral thinking from the provincial government. The premier emphasised that, "In recognition of our position as South Africa's most urbanised area, we will continue to explore unique possibilities for us to create an integrated, globally competitive urban region in the shortest possible time."

Efforts would, therefore, be stepped up to build Gauteng as a competitive city region. But that's old news and we'd like to see more concrete evidence of what exactly this rhetoric means. He did announce a new partnership between the province and the universities of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg "as the anchor institutions in the establishment of a Gauteng City Region Observatory.

Gauteng city region
The GCRO will undertake and co-ordinate research and benchmarking for the Gauteng city region. This partnership will allow for an independent assessment of the [city region's] impact on poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment and inequality and other key indicators. It will also enable us to more effectively harness the province's intellectual capital to help build a better Gauteng."

That's well and good, but let's have the details of the proposed Gauteng city region. Anyway, according to the media, a significant proportion of that intellectual capital may well be on the move again.

Good news was that the province will be implementing the "G-link (Gauteng link) initiative to provide affordable broadband access to 95 percent of Gauteng's people within the next five years". I'm not sure how that all works out in relation to what each city is planning, though. Again, some clarity is needed.

Nothing was said about "Mashatile's Monorail", but I'm sure that will raise its head again. For me, what was glaringly missing was a report back on the Gauteng provincial government precinct (GPGP).

We'll have to rely on a report in the Saturday Star of 16 February 16, with a misguided headline - "Joburg CBD upgrade ready to roll". What do you think we've been doing for the last 14 years, playing marbles?

It was reported that "after a delay of almost seven years, work ... will finally get under way on Monday, when contractors move on to site". Apparently this will consist of "stripping and dismantling partitions and clearing the buildings which have been standing empty and disintegrating since the provincial government purchased them several years ago".

Goverment precinct
Imagine if it was a private sector developer - seven years. Upgrading will then start in May, with the offices being ready for occupation by December. Phase two of the GPGP will be "the upgrading of pavements and reshaping of Beyers Naude Square and its surroundings". Hallelujah! Flo Bird, of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust, and I have a date to dance on the rubble of the demolished edge buildings on the north and south boundaries of the square. Right Flo?

Apart from the refurbishing of the heritage buildings and the square, a new 15-storey office block will be built on the open land on the corner of Sauer, Commissioner and Market streets. This R100-million building will house the office of the premier. It will be right opposite the Avril Malan building, which has been dubbed the worst building in the CBD. Bet we now see some action there!

The comment was also made that the province would seek assistance from the private sector for additional parking now that its underground parking building has been scrapped. I don't think so - the private sector is struggling with this issue, the result of poor parking ratios introduced by the public sector itself in the 1960s.

Not a word was said about the Rissik Street Post Office, although that evidently falls under the provincial legislature, but then I thought that Beyers Naude Square did as well. The City has got to use its political muscle to force the legislature to get this building into shape before 2010 - imagine taking Pommy visitors around the city and telling them that the decayed building was once our city's main post office and that under the giant condom on the clock tower were once housed miniature Big Ben bells, presented to us by the City of London, which have been stolen and melted down. Mind you, Pommy soccer lads are probably more interested in condoms than bells!

I see in the premier's address he talked about a campaign of naming and shaming those who did not change to energy efficient globes and switch off lights and appliances at night and when not in use. It is also time to name and shame those that are allowing our heritage assets to disappear (or callously removing them as was done by Imperial).

National budget
Cities did a bit better in the national budget.

The minister of finance advised that he was going to extend the urban development zone incentive (UDZ) for another five years. This is good news for the city indeed, as the previous formal deadline stated that buildings approved for the tax incentive must have been brought into use by 30 March 2009 for the investor to be eligible for the incentive.

That has held up things lately as time is running out. Now the cut-off date goes out to 2014. In addition, the geographic area approved previously may be altered or extended by request. I haven't seen the City's figures lately but I remember that well over 100 properties were submitted for approval for the tax relief - hopefully this extension will draw plenty more investment into the inner city.

Investment in public transport will get R11-billion over the next three years. "Spurred on by their 2010 FIFA World CupTM commitments, our larger cities have begun to modernise public transport arrangements. These reforms go well beyond the requirements for 2010, and are central to the modernisation and sustainability of our urban environments."

Well done, Trevor.

Migration and evictions
In the premier's State of the Province address he pointed to a continued migration into Gauteng. The massive increase in the number of people now residing in our province is reflected in the 2007 Community Survey, which shows Gauteng as having the highest population in the country, at 10,451 million people - one in four households in the country is now in Gauteng.

Of course, a large number of these - locals, migrants and immigrants - still live in the inner city in unhealthy and dangerously decayed buildings, many in appalling conditions. The City has been trying hard, not always sympathetically, to deal with this situation over a number of years.

In December 2005, in City must explore ways to house the poor, I wrote about two blocks of flats in Hillbrow that had been raided by police (at 2.30 in the morning) to remove residents who had been illegally occupying the flats for the past four years. In doing so, the police had come under gunfire, bottles and rocks.

"Some of the comments in the article were very revealing. A young mother said that she had been paying R1 200 per month for the past four years to share a flat with her three sisters. 135 illegal immigrants had been arrested during the raid. Several firearms had been recovered, and, ready to be lit and hurled at the police, 25 litres of petrol in bottles. This sounds like Beirut at its worst!"

So these buildings, like many others of their ilk, had extortioners, illegal immigrants and criminals as residents, in addition to the extorted just looking for somewhere over their heads.

In the same year, a press report on 13 November stated that the council had, in fact, obtained 60 court interdicts for evictions in the past nine months but that they had not been acted upon as yet. I suggested that the City did not, in fact, have a plan to deal with the urban poor.

Any Room for the Poor?
Then, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an international human rights NGO, published Any Room for the Poor?, a report that dealt with forced evictions in Johannesburg. The report quantified the extent of our problem as about 18 000 households who lived in "bad buildings" because of the non-availability of decent low-cost housing.

The report's profile of the occupants of these buildings was that they were the poorest and most vulnerable residents in the inner city, many performing poorly paid jobs either in the formal sector or subsistence earners in the informal sector. They lived in bad conditions not by choice, but because nothing else was available. Clearly they lived in the inner city so that they could be close to sources of employment and to avoid transport costs.

My gripe has always been that evictions do not solve the housing problem in the inner city, they exacerbate it. But, at the same time, many of the buildings being occupied are a danger to the health and sometimes to the lives of the inhabitants. We had numerous deaths in the Drill Hall before something was done about that building. It is a gigantic dichotomy that has to be approached with both sensitivity and with some concrete plan in place.

In March 2006, a high court ruling on City council evictions and related issues was handed down. It centred on an application brought by the council to evict over 300 people from six properties in the inner city based on the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act "which concerns the City's ability to exercise its statutory powers and duties to prevent dangerous living conditions in its area of jurisdiction".

Judgment
Judge J Jajbhay introduced his judgment as follows: "The consequences of rendering a person homeless in the circumstances postulated in this case have a very wide reach. It affects the very quality of a person's life, dignity and a person's freedom and security."

He stressed that a state had a duty to "immediately address the housing needs of its respective population, if any significant number of individuals are deprived of basic shelter and housing. To do otherwise is considered a prima facie violation of the right to adequate housing."

"The applicant's Inner City Regeneration Strategy will affect thousands of poor occupiers in the inner city in this way."

He conceded, however, that, "Where occupiers have been occupying the building for some time (such as in the present instance) has to be looked at with far greater sympathy than those who deliberately invade the buildings with a view to disrupting a housing regeneration programme contemplated by a municipality."

Interesting quote from another ruling - "What is really a welfare problem gets converted into a property one."

His judgment, that alternative accommodation had to be found in the inner city itself before evictions could take place, was appealed by the City and, if I remember correctly, the high court ruling was upheld, although the Supreme Court of Appeal did not seem to limit the geographical location of the alternate accommodation to be offered to the people to be evicted.

Constitutional Court
The next step, the last in the legal chain, was for the matter to go before the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court ruled that the City cannot evict

unless adequate alternative accommodation has been considered and a municipality has to show that it has engaged meaningfully with the tenants before attempting to obtain eviction orders from court.

Another interesting ruling from the Constitutional Court in this case related to the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, which makes it a crime to remain in a building when ordered to leave. This was found to be unconstitutional and in such cases only a court could rule.

The City is already proceeding with the provision of interim emergency shelter to accommodate those who have to be moved. This includes the old Perm building, Chelsea and MBV buildings in Hillbrow, Hospital Hill, Santa Monica Court, Noverna Court, Muti House and BG Alexander.

The good thing about this long-extended process is that clarity has finally been reached, which would not have been the case if NGOs seeking to protect the rights of the poor hadn't acted like a dog with a bone, worrying it to death.

Maybe it's time to do the same exercise with informal trading. Lately I have been getting a great deal of inflammatory newssheets from The Trader's Crisis Committee talking of constitutional rights being ignored and so on and so forth, all of which, I believe, was lately volubly expressed on an SABC3 programme. I received a copy of a comment from a lawyer on this issue which I found most helpful:

Local government
"Town planning, regulation of trading, traffic control, infrastructural planning and implementation in a CBD are some of the things that are considered necessary for local government to exercise meaningful control on. The services relating thereto are also the prerogative of local government. This is the context that local government's intervention and regulation should be understood, for the sake of creating orderly trade in the CBD or anywhere were else within its jurisdiction.

"It is true that the Constitution makes provision for people to trade freely. In terms of section 22 of the Bill of Rights, every person has a right to freely choose his trade, occupation or profession, but the Bill of Rights also provides that the practice of a trade may be regulated by law. Section 36 of the Bill of Rights furthermore quite clearly sets out that there may be limits to the freedom of trade. It provides that:

‘The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including:

  • the nature of the right;
  • the importance of the purpose of the limitation;
  • the nature and extent of the limitation;
  • the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and
  • less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.'

"The regulation of trade by means of a permit system is not unconstitutional. The trading permit by-law and implementation thereof would of course be required to comply with the constitutional provisions."

So let's end on a lighter note, yet one that still emphasises the huge contrasts we face in the inner city and the country as a whole.

Ballet
Ever wanted to go behind the scenes of a major ballet? How about The Sleeping Beauty? This is your chance to be present at a special rehearsal for Members and guests of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust, on Saturday, 15 March, from 10am to 1pm.

It is a sneak preview of the South African Ballet Theatre's preparations for the upcoming season. You will watch a class followed by rehearsals for the upcoming season, which will run at the Johannesburg Civic Theatre.

Bookings and payment must be made in advance to Edgar Moagi at the South African Ballet Theatre. For more information, call 011 877 6898. The cost is R75 for members and R85 for non-members. Park at the National School of Arts' parking ground in Hoofd Street, opposite the Civic Theatre, in Braamfontein.

Meet Gill Sagar and David Forrest at the Hoofd Street entrance to the Civic Theatre before 10am.

You're not a member? Good time to join!

Ciao, Neil

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Last Updated on 14 May 2008