Legal Aspects of Urban Squatter Management

Rising squatter settlements in South African cities concern residents seeking resolution. The PIE Act provides a legal process for eviction, with few exceptions.

October 11, 2023

The surge in squatter settlements in South African urban areas has become a pressing concern for residents seeking a swift resolution to this issue. However, the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, commonly known as the PIE Act, establishes a comprehensive procedure that landowners must follow to ensure a just and equitable eviction of squatters. Ignoring this procedure can render eviction unlawful and unconstitutional, with exceptions only in rare circumstances.

Balancing Conflicting Rights


South Africa's Bill of Rights guarantees property rights to all property owners, preventing arbitrary deprivation of their property, as stated in Section 25 of the Constitution. This right extends to landowners, allowing them to evict unlawful occupants from their land or buildings. Simultaneously, Section 26 of the Constitution asserts every person's right to adequate housing and mandates that no one may be evicted from their home without a court order. These rights create a delicate balance, with landowners' right to evict squatters and squatters' rights to housing and due process on the other.


The PIE Act: Striking a Balance


The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from Unlawful Occupation of Land Act was enacted to address these competing rights. This legislation empowers landowners to evict squatters while imposing a strict procedure that must be followed. This procedure, though potentially time-consuming and costly relative to the threat of occupation, is necessary to protect the squatters' rights by ensuring alternative arrangements are made, thus safeguarding the basic human right to shelter.


Challenges and Historical Context


South Africa has grappled with squatter settlements in urban areas for decades. This illegal occupation has detrimental economic consequences for legal residents. However, it is essential to acknowledge that many squatters are driven by the shortage of adequate housing and a lack of alternatives. The racialised character of squatting in urban areas reflects the country's historical background and the impact of apartheid policies, which displaced many black people from their homes and confined them to overcrowded shanty towns.


The Role of the PIE Act


The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from Unlawful Occupation of Land Act was introduced to end the inhumane methods used during apartheid to evict illegal occupants. In light of this history, it is challenging to imagine circumventing the legislative requirements of the PIE Act when dealing with illegal squatters.


Dealing with Threats of Illegal Occupation


When facing threats of illegal occupation in your area, reporting the matter to the relevant authorities is crucial. Cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg have established law enforcement agencies like ALIU to respond to and prevent illegal land occupation. However, these agencies must act in accordance with the provisions of the PIE Act, meaning they cannot evict squatters or demolish illegally erected structures without a court order. Such an order is only granted if adequate alternative accommodation is provided to the squatters.


Exceptions and Demolitions


Exceptions to the PIE Act exist when squatters still need to erect structures for primary shelter. In such cases, a municipality may have the right to demolish these structures without adhering to the PIE Act, as it would not infringe on the squatters' right to shelter.




In conclusion, circumventing the application of the PIE Act when evicting illegal occupiers in South Africa is challenging, given the Act's emphasis on just and equitable eviction. Most squatters resort to informal shelter as their only option, making exceptions under the PIE Act rare. Balancing the rights of landowners and squatters remains a complex legal issue, demanding careful adherence to the established procedures while acknowledging the historical context that led to these challenges.


Written by: Mpho Molapo
Moderated and approved by: Clive Smith

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