Court orders City to pay up in Covid shelter case

Caterers, dressed in hazmats, provided food to the homeless at the City’s Strandfontein Temporary Emergency Shelter during the national Covid-19 lockdown last year.

The Court has ordered the City of Cape Town to pay the legal costs of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) – after the council withdrew an interdict application to bar monitors from entering the Strandfontein Temporary Emergency Shelter during the national Covid-19 lockdown last year.

High Court Judge Siraj Desai ruled on March 17 that the City cover the legal costs of the SAHRC in addition to its own.

These costs include counsel fees, attorneys’ fees, and disbursements.

Costs will only be ascertained once the bill is prepared and presented to the tax master of the High Court.

Legal Resource Centre (LRC) Cape Town regional director Sherylle Dass, who represented the SAHRC, said they were pleased with the outcome of the matter as the judgment set a precedent that highlights and promotes the rights’ and functions of the monitors appointed by the Commission.

“This judgement affirms the powers of the commission to appoint monitors that monitor the violation of basic human rights of those who are vulnerable and marginalised,” she said.

Ms Dass said the Court found that the City’s arguments were without merit, unfounded and that their submission to withdraw their application during the hearing and that they did not want to tender costs could not be allowed by the Court.

“Our clients have been vindicated in that the judge dismissed the City’s arguments denying our clients (SAHRC and the monitors) access to the Strandfontein camp for purposes of monitoring human rights violations,” she said.

The Court reserved judgment for about 10 months after the City closed the site on Wednesday May 20 last year, the same day they were due in court for the interdict, to restrict SAHRC monitors from reporting on issues relating to the site on the Strandfontein sports field.

Mayoral spokesperson Greg Wagner said the City had indicated previously to the court that because the Strandfontein facility was already closed, the City’s staff no longer required protection from “so-called monitors”.

He said the City had delivered the highest service reach to the homeless in line with Alert Level 5 lockdown regulations last year.

“Together with expert NPO (non-profit organisation) partners, the City sheltered more than double the number of homeless compared to the whole of Gauteng, according to national Social Development statistics reported in Parliament at the time,” he said.

He said more than 1 350 homeless people received chronic and clinical treatment for an array of conditions, including Tuberculosis (TB), HIV, diabetes, hypertension and epilepsy.

More than 120 people were reunited with their families.

He reported that 4 500 meals were issued a day; that 2 000 mattresses and blankets were distributed; and that psycho-social services for substance users formed part of the rehabilitation process.

“This was made possible by concentrating limited City resources at the centralised Strandfontein facility together with expert NPO partners such as Haven Night Shelter and Ubuntu,” said Mr Wagner.

He said the City was relieved that interim relief granted kept monitors from blocking entrances and “harassing” staff.

“The interim relief had the necessary effect and enabled the City to complete its work without interference. By the time the Court allocated the hearing date for a final order, there was no need to decide the final relief as the matter had become moot, but the respondents insisted that the matter must proceed,” he said.

He said that the City would consider its options once a written judgment was made available by the Court.

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