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Farm worker challenges authorities in court over housing

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Municipality and province accused of not meeting constitutional obligations

Eric Lolo is to take the Drakenstein Municipality and the provincial department of Human Settlements to court for their “failure to meet its Constitutional obligation by not providing adequate emergency housing” to families facing eviction. Photo: Barbara Maregele
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A farm worker is to take the Drakenstein Municipality and the provincial department of Human Settlements to court for their “failure to meet its constitutional obligation by not providing adequate emergency housing” to families facing eviction.

The worker, Eric Lolo, is bringing the matter to court on behalf of all farm dwellers in the region currently facing eviction and in need of emergency accommodation. The case will be heard in the Western Cape High Court in April. Farm worker rights organisation Women on Farms Project has been admitted as amicus curiae [friend of the court] in the matter.

Lolo, 60, shares a two bedroom home with his daughter Berenice Fransman and her child on Langkloof Roses farm in Wellington. Lolo said he had worked at Langkloof intermittently for about 20 years before he was retrenched in February 2014.

In August 2015, the farm’s owners, Greenwillows Properties, lodged an eviction application in the Wellington Magistrates’ Court against Lolo. They argued that according to the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA), the right of Lolo and his family to remain in the house at Langkloof ended along with his employment.

Lolo currently works on an estate in Simondium.

Representing the farm, attorney Ina-Mari Booysen said that despite having worked for the company years earlier, Lolo had only signed a written employment and housing agreement in February 2012.

“Mr Lolo was retrenched for operating requirements. He is being evicted because he is no longer working on the farm. The farm only offers housing to active staff,” she said.

“There is currently a need for housing for employees who must live on-site. This distress and Mr Lolo’s failure to vacate the premises voluntarily is why we instituted the eviction application. There were several occasions where [alternative] housing was discussed with Mr Lolo, among other things,” she said.

The ruling on Lolo’s eviction is pending the outcome of the High Court case. If he is evicted, Lolo told GroundUp, his family has “nowhere to go”.

“I was given R10,000 for all of the years I worked there. They want me to move but I have nowhere to go. My daughter is unemployed and they don’t have work for her there either,” he said.

“The company offered me a bungalow, but I have to find a place to put it.”

During the eviction hearing, the municipality was asked to provide emergency housing for Lolo in Simondium where he currently works. The municipality offered emergency housing at an informal settlement in Simondium, which was rejected by Lolo and his lawyer as the site was already overcrowded and lacked sufficient services.

“Have they [the municipality] seen what that place looks like or know what goes on there?” asked Lolo.

Representing Lolo, attorney Johan van der Merwe said they want the municipality’s housing selection policy — dated 28 October 2014 — declared unconstitutional and invalid.

Van der Merwe plans to argue that this policy precludes farm dwellers from benefiting from the 20% quota set aside for farm workers and dwellers in municipal housing projects.

“The municipality’s practice of relying primarily on money from the provincial government for the provision of emergency housing is unlawful. We want the municipality to be legally obligated to use its own financial resources for emergency housing,” he said.

Gerald Esau, Executive Director of Community Services at Drakenstein Municipality, told GroundUp that as of last week, they were aware of 55 households awaiting placement. He did not say how many people were affected.

The municipality has a budget of R1.2 million available for emergency accommodation. The provincial Department of Human Settlements gave about R12 million to develop a piece of land to house evictees. “The National Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is however the lead government institution to address evictions on farms in terms of the Extension of Security Tenure Act. They must provide legal representation and also secure the permanent tenure [alternative accommodation] of evictees,” he said.

Esau said the municipality’s challenges included availability of funding and of suitable land, and the competing interests of evictees and of the communities where they are to be settled. “In Schoongezicht [in Paarl] for instance, the surrounding communities threatened to invade the site and even to harm the evictees unless they could also be accommodated in the project. The challenge is to find land and to get the buy-in from these communities,” he said.

Colette Solomon, co-director of the Women on Farms Project, in an affidavit to the court, said: “We will show that even from the evidence already on record, the living conditions of persons who are evicted from farms within the municipality’s jurisdiction, fall short of acceptable standards. Worse still, on the municipality’s own version, it has not prioritised the needs of the most vulnerable evictees: women and children. This is despite the constitutional injunction that they do so.”

Solomon believes that the evidence to be presented to the court “shows that the municipality’s failure to provide humane and an acceptable emergency accommodation for those evicted from farms in the manner similar to that of the applicants, violates the right to housing enshrined in the Constitution”.

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TOPICS:  Farming Housing Human Rights

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Write a letter in response to this article

Letters

Dear Editor

I salute you for finally coming to the rescue and unfair treatment of the vulnerable farmworkers community.

Their treatment under our democratically elected government is a traverse of justice. I myself as councillor previously brought various motion's to the Stellenbosch Council addressing these matter's but was always dismissed by the DA majority. Just last November I submitted a motion to develop an Agri-Village in the surrounding of R44, Stran road, because there is sufficient municipal land and most of these workers are not on the municipal waiting list for houses.

So, we need a special approach to provide accommodation. Another fact is that most owners see most workers as a liability and their existence is at risk. This was voted off, but there was a similar item brought by the owners of Simonsig that were supported by the DA.

Regards.
CLR. Franklin Adams