Homeless Network says there’s a housing shortage in Johannesburg, according to Mary Gillett-de Klerk, the chief executive of an NGO dedicated to fighting homelessness. News24 reports that Gillett-de Klerk expressed deep concern over the lack of shelter space for the impoverished population in the City. She highlighted that there are only four City-owned shelters in Johannesburg, which needs a revision given the scale of the problem.
Gillett-de Klerk emphasised the need for the City to provide alternative accommodation when people face eviction. She firmly stated, “You can’t evict them without providing alternative housing.” But unfortunately, the shortage of available shelter space has led to civil society, particularly NGOs, having to step in and provide shelter to those in need.
The issue of homeless individuals utilising abandoned buildings for shelter gained attention when Kenny Kunene, the City of Johannesburg mayoral committee member for transport and acting mayor at the time, took to the streets with fellow committee members and law enforcement officers. They conducted raids on dilapidated buildings in Windsor East and Hillbrow. Kunene’s actions have drawn criticism from human rights organisations, who accuse him of lacking empathy towards vulnerable people.
Gillett-de Klerk emphasised the importance of issuing warnings before carrying out evictions, stating that many people in Johannesburg face eviction daily. She highlighted that Section 26 of the Constitution mandates the state to provide adequate housing, but the reality needs to be revised. As a result, NGOs and civil society organisations fill the gap and shelter those in need.
Louise du Plessis, the land and housing program manager at Lawyers for Human Rights, condemned Kunene’s actions, particularly his property entry, without proper legal authorisation. Du Plessis highlighted that eviction or property damage without a court order is a crime, and the court has established procedures for relocation or eviction. She questioned the timing of the City’s actions, asking why warnings were only issued now if a court order had been in place since January.
The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) joined the criticism, condemning Kunene for conducting “unlawful raids” on buildings without proper court orders. SERI spokesperson Edward Molopi expressed concern about the City’s approach, targeting the poor in the inner city. He referenced previous legal battles fought by residents against similar actions under previous mayoral regimes, leading to landmark decisions regarding the rights of occupants.
Efforts to obtain comments from other relevant authorities, including the City and provincial departments, were unsuccessful. The lack of response from spokespersons left unanswered questions about the procedures followed and the City’s responsibility to protect vulnerable residents. The housing shortage and the plight of the homeless population in Johannesburg remain ongoing and require urgent attention and sustainable solutions.