• Tanveer Rashid Jeewa University of Stellenbosch
  • Sfiso Benard Nxumalo University of Oxford




arbitrarily deprived of property, right to equality, poverty


Given South Africa’s shameful apartheid past, equality before the law should seep through every stratum of its society. Arguably, equality should be more of a consideration in areas where apartheid caused significant damage, such as in property relations. Yet, this is far from being the case. In this article, the authors contend that legal protection of certain categories of property is based on who the property owners are and on the value of the asset. This argument is based on a case study of the legal protection afforded to homeless people’s ownership of property.
Property relations in capitalist “post”-apartheid South Africa operate and exist within a hierarchy of property interests, resulting in more protection being afforded to certain forms of property interests and less (and sometimes no) protection given to other forms of property interests. Thus, certain forms of property (“formal property”), such as immovable property, enjoy more protection than “informal property”, such as the makeshift homes of homeless people. This dichotomy is most evident in South Africa in light of the housing crisis. While the State focuses on preserving the free market, safeguarding rights over formal property, and minimising the existence of “nuisance” in urban areas, homeless people remain the most destitute people in the country. Hence, it is contended that property law does not protect homeless people and their belongings as informal property owners.
Two chief arguments are made in this regard. First, it is asserted that there is an ordering of property rights protection in a capitalist society and a correlating hierarchy of property interests. Although informal property is property deserving of legal protection, it is generally deprived of such protection because it is perceived as less valuable. This article focuses primarily on homeless people’s belongings (informal property), which, it is emphasised constitutes “property” as envisaged under section 25(1) of the Constitution, and extends to the materials that shelter homeless people. Thus, law enforcement agencies’ appropriation of homeless people’s belongings constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of property. The authors posit that the tendency to prioritise “formal” property over “informal” property is arbitrary and unconstitutional.
A second contention is that this difference in treatment of, and protection afforded to, informal property constitutes discrimination on the ground of poverty, which falls foul of the equality clause under section 9(3) of the Constitution, and of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA). The argument is made that the difference in treatment between legal protection afforded to certain property owners as opposed to others constitutes indirect unfair discrimination.


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How to Cite

Jeewa, T. R., & Nxumalo, S. B. (2024). (IN)EQUALITY IN PROPERTY OWNERSHIP: THE RHETORIC OF HOMELESSNESS. Obiter, 45(2). https://doi.org/10.17159/obiter.v45i2.16607