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Grootboom, Mayawati and Supreme Courts

Mrs Irene Grootboom lived with her and sister’s family in a shack, about 20 meters square in Wallacedene, an informal settlement without water, electricity, sewage or rubbish collection services in the western Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the residents had been on the waiting list for subsidised housing for years. Mrs Grootboom and a few hundred others decided to take matters into their hands in 1998 and occupied a vacant farm that was privately owned and had been earmarked for low-cost housing. They were evicted through a court order, their new-built homes were bulldozed and their possessions burned. When a High Court judgement granted them government shelter, the government appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Court had to interpret article 26 of the new South African Constitution, Republic of South Africa, which provides that a) ‘everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing’; b) ‘the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures (such as policy and programs) to achieve the progressive realisation of this right’; and c) ‘within its available resources. The court decided to test whether the Cape Metropolitan Council’s housing program was ‘reasonable’.
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