A group of 27 social justice movements have called on President Cyril Ramaphosa and the National Command Council to put a moratorium on eviction orders in the country to remove people from where they live during the declared state of disaster.
According to the organisations – including, among others, Equal Education, Abahlali baseMjondolo, Ndifuna Ukwazi, Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) and Social Justice Coalition – those facing evictions have an added layer of vulnerability to the health risks posed by Covid-19 where eviction would lead to homelessness.
“Informal settlement residents are at a disproportionate threat to illness as it stands.
“They are most vulnerable to the spread of infections due to poor sanitation and suffer from a higher incidence of respiratory infections and conditions, such as tuberculosis and asthma,” they said in a joint statement.
They said the evictions were often carried out violently, illegally and involved the destruction of homes and the confiscation of building materials.
The group said recently over 40 homes were demolished by City of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit in the Zwelidinga informal settlement in Khayelitsha, with residents being forced into homelessness.
“Groups experiencing heightened vulnerability include people living in informal settlements with strained [if any] access to communal basic services, people living in occupied buildings, people living on commercial farms, homeless people and those facing homelessness and displacements as a result of evictions [both legal and illegal].”
They said that the issuing of eviction orders did not consider the communicable nature of the coronavirus and how evictions and displacement would place a greater number of vulnerable people at risk.
Mpho Raboeane from activist organisation and law centre Ndifuna Ukwazi said the consequences of not imposing a moratorium on evictions during the declared state of disaster would be dire.
“It cannot be disputed that the lack of stable housing is a major barrier to being healthy.
“In the context of a crisis of unknown proportions, housing is more important now than ever before and the state must take measures to prioritise protecting the most vulnerable by preventing evictions which will lead to increased homelessness,” said Raboeane.
She said that research worldwide had shown that homelessness was closely linked to exposure to infectious diseases, specifically respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis and immunodeficiency, and Covid-19 was no exception.
“Many studies have shown a proven link between precarious living situations, such as homelessness, rough sleeping, homeless shelters and other forms of temporary accommodation and the spread of infectious diseases,” she said.
The group also said that the effects of evictions and displacements would have far-reaching consequences on women in both urban and rural areas.
“Woman-headed households and children will not only have an increased risk of contracting Covid-19 with a lack of access to health and sanitation, but will have an increased risk of violence if displaced during this stage of the pandemic.
“As things stand, most of the organisations offering a safety net have had to close their doors in response to the national safety precautions,” the organisations said.