Christina van Rooyen bought vegetables on credit for R200. Were it not for Cape Town attorney Matthew Walton, her failure to pay for them could have cost her her R15 000 home. The Court had to decide on whether section 61(1)(a) of the Magistrates Court Act infringes section 26 of the Constitution which entrenches the right of access to adequate housing.
This is not an isolated instance; at least 26 people in Prince Albert have lost their homes in this way. In the most recent nine cases, warrants of execution were issued and the homes of the people attached with the intention of selling them by public auction. The amounts were trivial: one for R2445, three for less than R1000, four for less than R200 and one for R58. In all cases a defence was available and in none had any hearing been held before the imminent sale in execution.
The matter came after the Cape High Court allowed Maggie Jaftha and Christina van Rooyen to challenge the constitutionality of the act. According to an article in The Mercury, the Department of Justice argued that even if one can't read, write, or doesn't have access to a lawyer, ignorance of the law is no excuse and the law must be upheld. Even if it leads to homelessness.
Gilbert Marcus SC argued that rendering the women homeless would affect the quality of their lives and their security. The court has reserved judgment.
Background article in the Star and