Legal challenge to Johannesburg's war on the urban poor

Central Methodist Church, Lawyers for Human Rights and others launch a court application to prevent arrests of Johannesburg poor and homeless for "loitering”; challenge the constitutionality of the city’s “loitering” by-law; and compel government to engage meaningfully with the poor seeking refuge in and around the church.

 

LEGAL CHALLENGE TO JOHANNESBURG’S WAR ON THE URBAN POOR

CENTRAL METHODIST CHURCH, LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND OTHERS LAUNCH
COURT APPLICATION TO –

PREVENT ARRESTS OF JOHANNESBURG POOR AND HOMELESS FOR “LOITERING”;
CHALLENGE THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE CITY’S “LOITERING” BY-LAW; AND
COMPEL GOVERNMENT TO ENGAGE MEANINGFULLY WITH THE POOR SEEKING REFUGE
IN AND AROUND THE CHURCH

In the late hours of 3 July 2009, some 350 destitute and homeless
people were arrested for “loitering” in central Johannesburg.  As they
had nowhere else to go, they had been sleeping in the vicinity of the
Central Methodist Mission (“the Church”).  As part of “Operation
Chachamela”, which effectively targets the destitute and homeless in
Johannesburg, hundreds of homeless persons — including disabled
persons, women, children and many refugees and asylum-seekers — were
unlawfully arrested and detained for the entire weekend.

Many of those arrested reported that they were also beaten, shocked by
tazers and pepper-sprayed.  Some say that they were further mistreated
once they were taken to Johannesburg Central Police Station, only to
be released several days later with no charges filed.  Many of the
belongings of those sleeping outside the Church – including their few
items of clothing and blankets, identity documents, passports, work
papers, and asylum-seeker permits – were destroyed during the raid and
subsequent arrests.

Today, 30 October 2009, the Church, Lawyers for Human Rights and two
of the “loiterers” issued an application in the South Gauteng High
Court, Johannesburg seeking relief against the City of Johannesburg,
the Chief of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD),
the Gauteng Provincial Commissioner of the South African Police
Services (SAPS) and a number of Ministers.  The applicants are
represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) with the assistance of
the AIDS Law Project (ALP). The application papers will be served on
the respondents at the beginning of next week.

The applicants have asked the High Court for an order that includes
the following:

(1)    Declaring that the raid on 3 July 2009 and subsequent arrests
were conducted unlawfully;

(2)   Prohibiting the SAPS and JMPD – jointly responsible for the
unlawful arrests – from harassing those living in and around the
Church and conducting further unlawful police operations at the
Church;

(3)   Declaring a City of Johannesburg by-law that criminalises
“loitering” on public roads unconstitutional and invalid; and

(4)   Compelling government to engage meaningfully with those seeking
shelter at the Church and other key stakeholders in order to address
the concerns of all.

The applicants are concerned that if no steps are taken to address the
grievances suffered by those living in and around the Church, or to
challenge the “loitering” by-law which is used to harass, detain
and/or arrest them, the SAPS and JMPD will continue to implement
“Operation Chachamela” (which means “walking on burning coals”) – the
crackdown on the destitute and homeless – in a way that has a severe
impact on the lives of many of Johannesburg’s poorest and most
vulnerable residents.

Those living at and around the Church and other residents of central
Johannesburg live in a constant state of anxiety and continue to be
harassed by members of the SAPS and private security companies.
Attempts to obtain undertakings from the SAPS and JMPD not to continue
the harassment campaign have been unsuccessful.

In the result, the applicants have been left with no option but to
approach the High Court for appropriate relief.  It is their hope that
this application will prompt the City of Johannesburg and others
within government to develop more appropriate policies to deal with
those living on the streets, especially as the 2010 Soccer World Cup
approaches.

Issued jointly by:

LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

LEGAL RESOURCES CENTRE

AIDS LAW PROJECT

For further information, please contact:

LEGAL RESOURCES CENTRE

Jason Brickhill

0731914787

jasonb@lrc.org.za

LAWYERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Jacob van Garderen

0828203960

jacob@lhr.org.za

AIDS LAW PROJECT

Mark Heywood

0836348806

heywoodm@alp.org.za