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Friday Aug 24, 2012

Schubart Park residents await fate

Ousted residents of Schubart Park will have to wait a while longer before knowing whether they will be allowed to return to their homes after the Constitutional Court yesterday reserved judgment in their application.

The residents, assisted by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), turned to the highest court in the land to appeal against several Pretoria High Court judgments handed down in September. In terms of these rulings, none of the residents may return to their Schubart Park homes.

Yesterday's application centred on whether these people were evacuated, as claimed by the Tshwane Metro Council or had been evicted, as claimed by LHR.

Four busloads of residents yesterday arrived at the Constitutional Court to hear their fate. They all wore red T-shirts with the words "My Home, my pride, forever."

The Schubart Park debacle was sparked by events on September 21 when a group went on the rampage during service delivery protests.

At the time about 700 families were living in the three blocks of flats, which were in a dilapidated state. Water and electricity services had been cut off, resulting in some of the residents taking to the streets.

The protest turned violent and the police tried to bring the protesters under control.

The residents could not go back to their homes, as the police had cordoned off the area and evacuated other residents from their flats.

The entire property was eventually sealed off and by the end of September all the buildings were empty.

The residents turned to the high court in a bid to return. But the council presented evidence from its experts that the buildings were in too dangerous a condition to inhabit.

Judge Bill Prinsloo at the time refused permission for the residents to return and said he was not going to have their blood on his hands.

Some were given temporary accommodation by the council, but most had to find shelter. Many slept on the streets for days.

LHR told the Constitutional Court that the appeal was to ensure that the residents were given the opportunity to return to their homes in Schubart Park - immediately or after the council had refurbished the apartments.

Counsel for LHR argued that structural engineers hired by the organisation to inspect the buildings had found the foundations to be stable.

Advocate Rudolph Jansen, for LHR, said the conduct of the council and the police in refusing to allow the residents to return was unlawful once the protests had been brought under control.

The council said it had acted within its rights as the buildings posed a danger to the lives of the occupants, according to its experts' findings. The residents had been evacuated as an emergency measure, it said.

The court was told that the council had regarded this as a temporary move from the "disaster-stricken area" pending the refurbishment of the flats, "if possible".

The council said the court could not ignore the conflicting opinions of the structural engineers, especially in the light of the evidence of the council's experts who said "no structural engineer will dare to declare the buildings safe for occupation in its present condition".

The Socio-economic Rights Institute of SA has entered the fray as a friend of the court and asked that the residents to permitted to return.

Counsel for the institute argued that "this case is not really about the residents' safety or the habitability of the property, but rather about the ease with which the state removed 3 000 people from their homes without a legal warrant".

The judges were told that "the problem with this case is not just that the law was transgressed, but that it was completely absent".

Pretoria News

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