evictions and demolitionsconstitutional law


In South African Human Rights Commission and others v City of Cape Town and others (8631/2020) [2020] ZAWCHC 84 (25 August 2020), the High Court considered the issue of evictions and demolitions during the COVID-19 national state of disaster.

The City had previously established an Anti-Land Invasion Unit (ALIU) to deal with the unlawful erection of structures on municipal land. During the months of April to July 2020, the ALIU carried out numerous evictions and the demolition of structures in and around Cape Town. This occurred during Alert Levels 4, 3 and 2, as described under the regulations of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. In one instance, a naked man was dragged from his shack before it was demolished.

The SAHRC applied to the High Court for interdictory relief, arguing that a court order was required for evictions from and demolitions of both occupied and unoccupied structures. This was clear from the provisions of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act 19 of 1998 (PIE) and the Constitution itself.

The City conceded that a court order was necessary for an occupied structure. However, it contended that this was not so for an unoccupied structure. It did not constitute a ‘home’.


The High Court disagreed with the City, stating that judicial oversight was indeed required, notwithstanding municipal budgetary constraints and housing challenges. It was the poorest of the poor who sought refuge in informal settlements. Whether the structures erected were complete, incomplete, or in the process of being built, they were capable of providing shelter, especially during winter and the COVID-19 pandemic. It was for the courts to decide who should be deprived of such shelter.

Moreover, the High Court held that the risk that thousands of vulnerable people would be left homeless took precedence over the City’s concerns about being able to provide adequate housing and the threat of land invasions.

Accordingly, the High Court upheld the application with costs. The City was interdicted from evicting anyone from or demolishing any structure, whether occupied or unoccupied, during the national state of disaster, without first obtaining a proper court order.

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