Ruth­less rules leave us home­less

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

For more than 20 years, thou­sands of work­ing peo­ple across the so­cial spec­trum have been made home­less and ef­fec­tively robbed of prob­a­bly more than R60 bil­lion. These are men and women who, through be­ing re­trenched, fall­ing ill or be­com­ing in­jured, have been un­able to main­tain their bond re­pay­ments.

The is­sue is par­tic­u­larly poignant now with the con­tin­u­ing rise in un­em­ploy­ment and re­ports of bru­tal evic­tions car­ried out by the no­to­ri­ous Red Ants. It is a tragic re­al­ity that ex­tends from small, two-room town­ship houses to the three-bed­roomed bun­ga­lows of mid­dle class sub­ur­bia and be­yond.

These are “sales in ex­e­cu­tion”, where a sher­iff auc­tions off houses with­out any re­serve price, dur­ing which some houses are sold for as lit­tle as R100.

Be­cause there is no re­serve, bid­ding, even for a house val­ued at R1 mil­lion, can start at as low as R10. This is an open in­vi­ta­tion to cor­rup­tion that can in­volve col­lu­sion be­tween sher­iffs, lawyers and es­tate agents.

Although all such sales are sup­posed to be ad­ver­tised, some may not have been, and oth­ers are per­haps given lit­tle promi­nence.

King Sibiya of the Jo­han­nes­burg-based Lun­gelo Lethu Hu­man Rights Foun­da­tion says: “There are cases where there was only one bid­der and a house was sold for R100, and resold within a week for R25 000.”

Scot­tish-born ad­vo­cate Dou­glas Shaw of Ban­klawad­vi­sor agrees that such in­ci­dents are rel­a­tively com­mon­place.

“And they af­fect peo­ple right across South African so­ci­ety,” he says.

Shaw caused a mi­nor stir last year when he high­lighted this trav­esty by pub­lish­ing in­ter­na­tional com­par­isons of such sales that he had gleaned as part of a PhD project. South Africa, he pointed out, had “the worst record in the world” for the sales of homes of peo­ple in debt.

Be­lat­edly, the labour move­ment, the SA Com­mu­nist Party and se­nior fig­ures in the jus­tice depart­ment seem to have agreed that this “bro­ken sys­tem” must be scrapped; that, at the very least, if the house of an in­debted home­owner is sold, it should be for close to mar­ket value.

This is the sys­tem in coun­tries such as Bri­tain. In Ghana, for ex­am­ple, a re­serve price of 80% of the mar­ket value is de­manded for such forced sales.

Be­cause noth­ing has been done, and low­price auc­tions and evic­tions are con­tin­u­ing, Shaw is tak­ing a case to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court on be­half of more than 290 clients who have lost their homes through sales in ex­e­cu­tion.

They are seek­ing a declara­tory judg­ment that such sales, all of which are well be­low mar­ket value, are un­con­sti­tu­tional.

While it is im­pos­si­ble to es­tab­lish an ex­act fig­ure for the un­der­sold value of such homes, Shaw es­ti­mates that it prob­a­bly now to­tals “at least R60 bil­lion”.

And Sibiya points out that among the suf­fer­ers are el­derly peo­ple in Soweto who have had the houses they were born and raised in sold from un­der them be­cause their ti­tle deeds have “gone miss­ing”.

The sys­tem is im­moral, open to cor­rup­tion and in des­per­ate need of fix­ing – sooner rather than later – es­pe­cially given the gloomy eco­nomic out­look for the sell­ers of labour across the board.

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