Joburg South land grabs: ‘We will go to war,’ say residents
Rising racial tensions and an allegation of syndicates backed by government officials marked this past weekend’s ongoing illegal land invasions in the south of Johannesburg.
As land invaders accused property owners of being racist, Gauteng MEC for Human Settlements Lebogang Maile said the widespread land invasions in Johannesburg South are the work of syndicates in cahoots with officials, and in some instances, police officers.
“There are syndicates who are making money out of the desperation of our people. It is alleged that the syndicate has connections and is working with some government officials and in some instances police officers. It’s a serious concern”.
Johannesburg South residents have vowed to go to war with land invaders if the government continues to allow land invaders to build shacks in the area. The threat comes on the back of widespread protests last week in Zakariyya Park, Lenasia and Ennerdale.
By Friday 19 July, the protests had spread to other areas in the south of Johannesburg including Protea South and Kliptown.
More officers were deployed to the areas on Friday morning as the protests spread.
Many property owners said they had decided to take matters into their own hands because the government was not willing to address the issue of random land grabs in the area. The affected areas were on lockdown on Friday, with the main roads leading in and out of Lenasia blockaded with burning tyres and rubble. Traffic also built up on the Golden Highway as Eldorado Park and Zakariyya Park residents voiced their unhappiness by blocking it.
The Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) denied suggestions on Saturday that the land grabbers and property owners were attacking one another.
Johannesburg Metro Police Spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said, “A group of people went past houses to meet the MEC for Human Settlements, Lebogang Maile. It was exaggerated that people were being attacked. The people were only passing to get to the MEC.”
One land grabber, Sabelo Mbuyisa, denied claims by property owners that land invaders were making illegal electricity connections and devaluing property. Mbuyisa said such claims were fuelled by hatred and racism.
“We have not encroached on anyone’s property. We are a distance away from their houses. We do not make illegal connections, we don’t steal and we are not responsible for damage to electricity infrastructure. They are racists who cannot bear to live side-by-side with black communities. We are going nowhere. They can send in Metro Police, we won’t budge.”
Maile promised residents all their challenges would be addressed, but stressed that this would require a concerted effort.
“It needs a multi-sectoral, multi-pronged approach,” said Maile.
Asked where the money would come from, Gauteng MEC for Infrastructure Development Tasneem Motara, who accompanied Maile, said:
“It has to be included in our budgetary process and plans, and if it needs further engagement with national Treasury and national departments, we will facilitate that. But for the non-budgetary issues like the court orders, these will simply be enforced”.
Addressing residents on Saturday, Maile pleaded with them and the land invaders to retain calm while the City, premier’s office, the department of infrastructure, and the department of human settlements devise a strategy.
“The problems are complex. We cannot resolve them on our own. When we return, we will ask Premier David Makhura to come along so that he can assist in detailing a plan for addressing the land invasions.”
Many property owners said they were done with negotiating or seeking government intervention, and would fight to preserve the value of their properties.
Michael Loonat from Lenasia South said: “We will fight to preserve the value of our properties. We will go to war because the government is aware of the matter but still dragging its feet. We are tired of being bystanders in matters that directly affect us. We hoped the government would intervene but now look at what is happening.”
Fatima Faranaaz from Lenasia South said: “We are done talking. How do you talk to a government that doesn’t listen? It’s time we fought to defend our houses. It’s time we fought to protect our electricity infrastructure which is also under threat from these illegal land invaders. Even if I die, I’ll die peacefully knowing that it was within my rights to fight to protect what is mine.”
Steve Robinson, 57, from Ennerdale said, “We have been patient for too long. We cannot go on like this any longer. The shacks devalue our properties, the shack-dwelling land invaders are also stealing our electricity. We can no longer cope with the constant power cuts, because our transformers are blowing up because they are overloaded.”
Maile said a plan had been developed for the area, but never implemented. He did not furnish reasons for the non-implementation of the plan.
He said there were court orders in the hands of the municipality, provincial government and private land owners, “and some of those court or eviction orders have not been executed”.
Maile said it was resolved that law enforcement working with the provincial government should ensure that no new land invasions occurred. He said they had also resolved that the municipality should be called in and had agreed to the establishment of a task team to deal with the issue.
Over the past three years, informal settlements such as Tjovitjo, Phumulamcashi and Majazana have sprung up on illegally-occupied land in the south of Johannesburg.
For one to fully understand the scale of the problem, one needs to look no further than the mushrooming informal settlements. Take, for instance, Tjovitjo which is now home to 4,632 individual shack owners. There are obviously many more inhabitants than that, considering each household usually has more than one person.
Some residents have made illegal connections on the lines supplying trains with power, which could worsen the inadequate Metrorail services.
In February 2018, Johannesburg mayoral committee member for public safety Michael Sun told media the land-grabbers seemed to be part of a syndicate. He was referring to shacks on illegally occupied land in Orange Farm.
Some of the land invaders were defiant, asserting their rights to land.
Tshepo Mapale from Soweto said, “To hell with property owners. They are living too comfortably, which they think gives them the right to dictate where we can or cannot stay. We are not going anywhere. They can call the Metro Police and thieving Red Ants like they always do. That bunch used to be feared but we no longer fear them.”
The land invaders told Daily Maverick that they will continue erecting their shacks in the area as they have nowhere else to go. DM