Pretoria High Court judge Norman Davis ruled in favour of residents of the former Marievale Military base on May 9. In a groundbreaking win for housing rights for the poor, the court ruled that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is by law not permitted to evict around 73 people and their dependants “through the back door of the Marievale military base.”
The courtroom was filled with expectant residents of the former Marievale community when judge Davis handed down his judgment. Evicted residents (the applicants in the High Court application) were told they are allowed to return to their homes within 30 days. In addition, Davis instructed the SANDF to desist from harassing, intimidating, threatening and restricting the movement of the community.
In its submissions the military said they had not evicted the residents but had simply carried out a “training operation”. The court rejected this argument. Davis had no trouble coming to the conclusion that the evictions were unlawful, but found it more difficult to determine how to remedy the illegality.
He concluded ultimately that the residents could return to their homes on the military base on two conditions namely that the dwellings in question are fit for human habitation (the military alleges many are not because they have been vandalised), and if the dwellings are not occupied by members of the SANDF.
Should these requirements not be met, Davis has instructed the Department of Defence “to provide temporary adequate housing” for the evicted residents, effective within 30 days.
Addressing the media outside court, community leader Chris Koitsioe said they are delighted with the outcome.
“Now we have to wait for 30 days to see whether the army will let us back in or whether they will remain in contempt,” he said.
The judgment is the second successful ruling against the SANDF. In a separate case challenging the eviction, the South Gauteng Court in Johannesburg ruled that the evictions were illegal. This order is currently being appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeal by the SANDF.
“The residents of Marievale have finally been vindicated and it is gratifying that the court ruled in their favour. The illegal evictions were a manifestation of an arrogant abuse of power by the military and their persistent efforts to delay the restoration of the residents to their homes is unfortunate. We will continue to pursue justice for the residents,” Thandeka Chauke said on behalf of lawyers for Human Rights.
In a statement released by the Department of Defence (DOD) shortly after the court ruling on May 9, spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said “The minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms NN Mapisa-Nqakula takes note of the judgement handed down by the Pretoria High Court with regard to the Marievale matter and respects the decision of the court. To this extent, the department will abide by the ruling of the court.”
Despite the judgment, when the residents returned to their informal structures at Happiness Village next to Marievale military base, they noted it is still being guarded by armed soldiers who prevent anyone from entering the premises. Koitsioe said if the SANDF appealed the judgment, residents would take the case right up to the Constitutional Court.