South Africa News

Court rules 84-year-old gogo can stay on farm

After having eviction proceedings hanging over her head for more than a decade, an 84-year-old woman and her disabled son can now breathe a sigh of relief as the law came to her aid to ensure that she may continue to stay in the house which she had occupied since she was 11 years old.

The elderly Clara Phillips moved to a farm in Somerset West in the Western Cape when she was a mere child. Her father worked for the then farm owner.

Phillips has resided in the house on the property since 1947 when she was 11 years old. She lived on the property with her parents.

The property formed part of a much larger farm at the time. When she married her late husband, who was employed on the farm, she continued to occupy the house.

The farm changed hands several times over the years and the new owners allowed Phillips to remain in the house.

This followed an oral agreement made by one of the farm owners over the years to the Phillips family, stating that they could live there for life.

But as time went on, the farm was subdivided into several properties, which were developed for urban living.

In 2007 Willem Grobler bought the portion on which Phillips and her disabled son, Adam, lived. He purchased the property at a public auction and it was registered in his name in September 2008.

As he wanted to develop the land, Grobler wanted Phillips to move, but she refused.

He then turned to the magistrate’s court in the Cape, where he obtained an eviction order against her.

This order was later overturned by the high court on appeal.

Grobler, however, now turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein in his latest attempt to move Phillips.

He admitted that he was informed that a previous owner of the property had granted to the first respondent a lifelong right of occupation of the property.

Grobler requested a copy of the agreement. When this was not furnished, he gave Phillips notice to vacate the property in January 2009.

This was the start of his 12-year-long legal battle to evict her. When the matter landed before the SCA, the president of this court-ordered lawyers to represent Phillips, free of charge, as complicated issues in law were at play.

These included the Prevention of Illegal Evictions and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, 19 of 1998 (PIE) and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act, 62 of 1997 (ESTA) and its application to this matter.

Grobler, meanwhile, during the cause of the lengthy legal battle offered to relocate Phillps and her son to alternative and suitable accommodation elsewhere, at his expense.

Phillips turned this down and said she was happy in the house which she knew all her life and she was not willing to move.

Acting Judge GG Goosen, who wrote the judgment on behalf of the five SCA judges who heard the matter, said: “No case in which an order of eviction from a residence is sought can ignore the visceral reality of what is sought, namely the ejectment of a person from their home in vindication of a superior right to property.”

He added that nor can the legal process by which the order is obtained be divorced from our fraught history of eviction and ejectment of vulnerable people from their homes.

But, the judge said, the Constitution is clear that the rights of the vulnerable must be protected.

In turning down Grobler’s appeal, the judge said while the court accepted Grobler’s offer of alternative accommodation for Phillips and her son was made in good faith, it did not tilt the scales towards granting an eviction order.

“This was not a case in which the reasonableness or otherwise of an unlawful occupier’s refusal to vacate was a central issue … The true issue concerned the dignity of an elderly and vulnerable woman and a person with disabilities in the circumstances of the first respondent and her son.”

“To hold that these weighty considerations are to give way merely because an alternative abode is offered would negate her dignity rather than protect it,” the judge said.

-Pretoria News

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