The City of Johannesburg has demolished dozens of recently built houses on land it owns in Lenasia South.
Speaking to Daily Maverick at the weekend, some of the former homeowners said their troubles stemmed from the country’s racist past and claimed that members of the Indian community in the area refused to accept black families as neighbours.
During our visit to the area on Monday, many black residents, some of whom had attended a court hearing on the issue, claimed members of the Indian community in the area had used an invalid court order to persuade the City of Johannesburg to carry out the demolitions.
The city strongly denied that the demolitions had been carried out on the strength of an invalid court order, saying it had acted lawfully and that 40 unlawfully erected incomplete structures had been demolished in the area.
“As indicated in your questions to the City of Johannesburg, these were just claims, and not factual. The city can confirm that it did obtain a valid court order to demolish structures that were being erected unlawfully in Lenasia South. All necessary processes for implementing the court order were duly followed, including appointing the sheriff to execute the court order,” said City of Johannesburg spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane.
When the demolitions were carried out on Thursday 23 May, Black First Land First (BLF) leader Andile Mngxitama said his organisation had lost sympathy for the community of Lenasia as it had chosen to follow the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), to its detriment.
The BLF’s Zanele Lwana said: “Our position as BLF is that if people occupy land and build their own houses, the role of government should be to help and assist (with) basic services to the people. The government already has not been able to provide housing to all people. When people take initiative, they must be supported and not criminalised and their homes demolished, as we have seen.
“The case of Lenasia shows how these main political parties will not return land to our people. Instead of giving our people land, they destroy their homes. Only BLF stands with black people,” Lwana said.
In the past few years, the area from Lenasia to Orange Farm and beyond has been affected by random land invasions which have caused tensions among residents, especially between the predominantly Indian community and black residents in the area.
The BLF has been outspoken on the land issue. However, some land invaders in the area admitted that they had acted on the EFF’s announcement that landless people should seize and occupy vacant land wherever they chose.
“The EFF was never physically in the area. We acted on the EFF’s instruction,” one resident said.
A few years ago, when Daily Maverick was tracing the source of the land grabs, especially in areas around Lenasia, stretching all the way to the Vaal, then EFF Gauteng secretary Malesela Ledwaba openly confirmed that grabbing vacant land was part of the party’s policy.
The City of Johannesburg confirmed to Daily Maverick on Monday that the land on which the demolished houses had been built was illegally invaded as part of a series of land invasions which had been taking place in Region G since 2016.
“The city has been fighting land invasions and has always sought court orders before demolitions of illegally erected structures. In this instance, the city was reliably informed by the community about large-scale land invasions that had commenced and needed urgent attention,” said Modingoane.
“The city obtained an interdict and court order which required the land invaders to stop any invasions and erecting structures, failing which such structures would be demolished as per the court order.”
Land invaders had failed to adhere to the court order and “as a result, the city implemented the order on 23 May 2019,” Modingoane said.
On Monday, an elderly woman who asked to be identified by her maiden name, Njoko, told Daily Maverick she was deeply hurt by the demolitions. Although her home had not been destroyed, she had been abused by Red Ants personnel who carried out the evictions, she said.
“I’m deeply hurt by what I saw, and even more so because my own home was also one of the targets. I was saved by my bravery as I told the Metro Police officers and Red Ants personnel that I will not step out of my house. I told them to demolish my home with me inside so that it becomes my grave — they would then have to explain why they chose to kill and bury me in that way. I lost my home in Soweto under questionable circumstances — I cannot go through that again. Over my dead body,” said Njoko.
Doctor Khoza, 39, whose home was demolished, said he was also saddened by the experience. The unemployed Khoza said he survived on piece jobs. During Daily Maverick’s visit to the area on Monday, he was cleaning bricks from a neighbour’s rubble so that they could be re-used. He said he could not attend the court case as he needed to work to pay rent. He has been renting accommodation since the demolitions.
“You expect that a caring government and city would not divide its own people by taking sides, but here were are, homeless because the city and government are on the side of the Indian community that does not want us here.
“I had already spent over R60,000 on my house when it was demolished, and one would have expected that the city and government would warn us that it was illegal to build our homes on the land, as we ran the risk of demolitions,” said Khoza.
Daily Maverick’s visit to the area on Monday coincided with a court hearing on the evictions, which was attended by some of those affected by the demolitions.
A victim of the demolitions, who refused to reveal his identity because of the sensitivity of the situation, referred Daily Maverick to a lawyer representing the owners of the demolished structures, saying he could not comment.
The lawyer, too, declined to comment, saying the matter was still before the courts.
Asked about the provision of alternative accommodation for families whose homes were demolished, the city said most demolished structures were half-built and unoccupied.
“A notice was placed in the area in accordance with the PIE (Prevention of Illegal Eviction) Act. Where there was full occupation on arrival, a structure was left intact and the city will be going to court for an eviction order. We are still awaiting a return of service from the Sheriff, which will state exactly how the court order was executed,” said Modingoane.
However, people whose homes were demolished, such as Khoza, insisted they were taken by surprise, saying they were not told about the demolitions beforehand.
The City of Johannesburg confirmed to Daily Maverick on Monday that it owned the disputed land.
Commenting on the widespread land grabs in Johannesburg, Modingoane said the city was home for all to stay and grow, and that different housing needs should be met. The city was committed to the provision of a range of well-located, good-quality, adequately serviced, safe and affordable accommodation opportunities.
Added Modingoane: “As recently announced during the budget speech, the city has allocated 4,000 sites and serviced stands for people to build for themselves.
“Having said that, the city condemns acts of illegal land invasions and will act according to the confines of the law to deal with incidents of a land invasion. The land in question was illegally invaded, hence a court order was obtained and executed.” DM
"If you took the most ardent revolutionary vested him in absolute power within a year he would be worse than the Tsar himself." ~ Mikhail Bakunin