During a court recess, the ninth respondent Virgil Abrams (aka Oom Goonie) and first respondent Delicia Levack, read the documents that explain how the municipality will help them.
KNYSNA NEWS - Residents at Knysna's 3 Nelson Street, a property that has become notorious as a 'crime den' in the heart of the central business district, will finally be leaving on June 18 as per eviction order, or will be evicted by the town's sheriff the following day.
However, some of them will be given emergency housing kits by the Knysna Municipality and placed on the list of 9 900 people waiting for formal housing.
This final date for eviction and court order was granted by Magistrate C Maseti in the Knysna Magistrate’s Court on April 24.
Following Maseti's court order on April 10 that the municipality must advise the court on the prospects of available accommodation for the people evicted, the Knysna municipality's stance sets a precedent.
On Friday, April 24, attorney Donald Curtis, acting on behalf of the Knysna Municipality, told the the Knysna-Plett Herald: "There are lots of people in the same circumstances. While we want to assist as best as we can, to give some people homes before others in the line would cause civil unrest."
In the municipality's (the twelfth respondent's) affidavit, the municipal manager, Grant Easton, writes: "In compliance with the order (to furnish a report detailing steps and means to provide alternative accommodation to or in respect of first, second, third and fifth respondents) ... the twelfth respondent acknowledges its constitutional obligations towards residents residing within its constituency to provide adequate housing and basic services.
However, this socio-economic right is accurately termed a 'progressive right' insofar as the government in general and, in this instance, the twelfth respondent is only able to do so within the practical realities of inter alia budgetary and availability of land constraints."
Easton explains in the document, which the first, fifth and ninth respondent read during a court recess (the others did not attend court), that there are currently "9 900 people persons/ families recorded on the formal housing list who have followed the defined process to be placed on the waiting list and are awaiting formal housing", and that it would be "manifestly unfair" if Nelson Street respondents were placed ahead of these.
"Tensions arising from the progress or averred lack thereof made towards provision of formal housing by the twelfth respondent (municipality) have previously flared up locally into violent civil unrest and protest actions which have caused harm to both person and private and state property," said Easton, also noting that there were persons living in much worse conditions than the Nelson Street respondents.
However, Easton said the municipality was able to offer help in the form of emergency housing kits which consist of six poles, two vehicle loads of wooden planks, 'gunplas' (protective sheeting) and roofing sheets for a roof, 'gunplas' for insulation of the interior or the walls and nails to erect a temporary shelter.
They could approach the offices of the Knysna Municipality's Department of Integrated Human Settlements situated at the Old Main Building on Church Street to arrange their kits and further accommodation. The department would render assistance in the erection of a home if the household is headed by an elderly, single woman or disabled person.
According to Easton's deposition , a "small space of land within an area where basic services are provided in terms of government policy, to wit, a water standpipe within 100m of the dwelling and a toilet shared with up to four other families, will be facilitated".
The process to evict 11 illegal dwellers started last year when Daan Dercksen was appointed by the joint liquidator of the property, Fanie Roux of George, to start eviction proceedings and since then it has taken several steps to secure the 'final marching orders'.
The first notice of intent to evict and proceedings were lodged by Dercksen on January 22.
At this time, the 11 respondents were legally informed of this notice and offered the chance to file opposing papers or get legal representation. By the deadline date and second court appearance on March 6, Dercksen took the second step of lodging an application to the court for the eviction notice in terms of Section 4 (2) of Act 19 of 1998 (Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act -PIE).
Notice of eviction was duly served on all 11 respondents before March 13. At their next court appearance on April 10, the respondents who arrived at the court had not lodged opposing documents and they were told to appear in court on April 24 to receive the final date of eviction. At the same court appearance, Maseti also ordered the municipality to advise the court on the availability of alternative accommodation in Knysna on April 24.
Only respondents one, three, five and seven attended the April 10 court proceedings and therefore were eligible for the emergency kit being offered by the municipality and inclusion on the waiting list for formal housing on April 24. However, that last Friday court appearance was also attended by respondent nine, who was identified as Oom Goonie in legal papers but insisted on being called by his proper name, Virgil Abrams. It was consequently accepted that Abrams would also benefit from the municipality's offer.
Daan Dercksen said: "Although I was acting for the party who lodged the eviction proceedings, I must say that the report submitted by Curtis on behalf of the municipality was of a very high quality. That the municipality was even prepared to reach out and offer to assist the respondents with emergency housing kits, was a remarkable gesture of social benevolence on its part. However, it should be noted that in order not to set a precedent of any sorts, the municipality was not prepared to consent to any draft court order prior to the hearing, but merely took the stance that it will abide by any order the court might hand down.”
Outside of court, fifth respondent Kobus Rasta said: "I feel much better. Thank God for taking me away from that place [Nelson Street]."
Delicia Levack said: "'Dit is wat dit is' [It is what it is]. I am waiting for the material to build my house." Kobus Rasta expressed joy: "At least I can have my dogs at my own house and plant vegetables."
Abrams said: "It is a big relief; they are going to help us."
Nelson Street evictees (from left) Virgil Abrams, Kobus Rasta and Delicia Levack talk to Donald Curtis (of Mosdell, Pama and Cox Attorneys), who was acting on behalf of the Knysna Municipality. Photos: Elaine King.
ARTICLE: ELAINE KING, KNYSNA-PLETT HERALD EDITOR
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