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Bromwell Street Residents Seek Justice in Constitutional Court Over City of Cape Town's Housing Policy

Published February 28, 2024
3 months ago

The battle for housing justice has reached South Africa's highest court, as families from Bromwell Street, Woodstock in Cape Town, take on the City's housing policy. These residents, who have called Bromwell Street home for generations, are contesting their displacement, which would uproot them from their community, schools, hospitals, and places of work. The Constitutional Court has yet to render a judgment after hearing compelling submissions that question the legality and fairness of the City's approach to emergency accommodation.

The plight of the Bromwell Street families is a manifestation of a broader issue: the relentless push of gentrification displacing long-established working-class communities from rapidly urbanising city centres. Affordable housing campaigners Ndifuna Ukwazi and the socialist group Abahlali baseMjondolo have aligned with the residents, offering a formidable voice against the commodification of land and housing that favours profit over the welfare of citizens.

A key criticism directed at the City of Cape Town is the apparent inadequacy of its response to the housing crisis. The applicants have argued that the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) fell short in assessing the City's actions against the constitutional standard of reasonableness. The SCA's interpretation failed to truly comprehend the nuances of gentrification, overlooking the need for spatial justice that should guide the provision of inner-city emergency housing.

The City’s stance, as articulated by Mayco member for human settlements Carl Pophaim, counters that fulfilling such housing demands for private eviction cases would be both unreasonable and unfeasible. Even though the SCA previously aligned with the City, suggesting that the development of affordable housing in inner-city areas like Woodstock and Salt River could counter the effects of apartheid spatial planning, the involved residents and supporting organisations see this response as markedly insufficient. Reclaim the City, which campaigns on behalf of tenants’ rights, beckons for policies that genuinely prioritize residents over developers.

As South Africa continues to contend with the legacy of apartheid in its urban planning and housing provision, the ongoing legal struggle of the Bromwell Street families gains symbolic significance. Through their relentless pursuit of justice, they not only fight for their own homes but also for the principle that in a genuinely democratic and inclusive society, the right to housing should extend to all, irrespective of economic stature. The Constitutional Court’s forthcoming decision is eagerly anticipated as a potential landmark in the country’s housing rights jurisprudence.

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