Maverick Citizen


Housing campaigner Siyabonga Mahlangu takes the fight to dodgy landlords

Housing campaigner Siyabonga Mahlangu takes the fight to dodgy landlords
Siyabonga Mahlangu provides support to vulnerable tenants in low-cost housing in Johannesburg. (Photo: Thom Pierce)

From a small room in Braamfontein, one man and a helper provide free support to 50 buildings in Joburg’s city centre, delivering a valuable service to some of the most exploited residents of low-cost housing.

Siyabonga Mahlangu runs a community-based organisation in downtown Johannesburg called the Inner City Federation. Its purpose is to provide support to vulnerable tenants in low-cost housing who are being exploited by landlords, corrupt city officials and fake building owners.

These situations may seem fantastical, but in a city where the law is sparsely enforced, they are all too common. In 2013 the owner of the building where Mahlangu rented an apartment passed away and the building was put up for auction. He was presented with an eviction order and told to leave. He had lived there for five years.

Through a court hearing and subsequent appeal process, Mahlangu learnt that the City of Johannesburg has an obligation to provide alternative accommodation to anyone being evicted whose personal circumstances indicate that they cannot afford a new place to live.

In his case, it was ruled that the City had to provide him with alternative accommodation before he could be evicted. It took five years for Mahlangu to be rehoused and it eventually happened only after the entire building was destroyed in an accidental fire during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Throughout the six-year process, Mahlangu faced the prospect of being left homeless on several occasions. He experienced, first-hand, the frustration and helplessness that thousands of others face because of the lack of rights and accountability for the welfare of low-income tenants in Johannesburg.

But it lit a fire in him to commit his life to help other people who were struggling in similar circumstances…

“I promised myself that I would fight for human rights. I will make sure that they are recognised, fulfilled and protected… That’s what I tell myself each and every day.”

From a small room in Braamfontein, Mahlangu and his team provide free support to 50 buildings in the city centre and deliver valuable services to some of the most exploited residents of Johannesburg’s low-cost housing.

Every month Mahlangu and his colleague Sifiso facilitate a meeting between members of the building committees. It’s a space for them to come together and discuss issues that they face, and to share advice and solutions that have worked in the past. Mahlangu and Sifiso also take on cases where tenants need more personal support. In these instances, they provide mediation with the landlord or the City, or act as a link to legal representation for court proceedings. DM

The Actionists was launched in early 2023 by photographer Thom Pierce. It consists of on-the-ground problem solvers, community activists, climate campaigners and human rights defenders who engage in direct action. They are people anyone can turn to in difficult circumstances: a growing community of people who care about the future of South Africa. Through a series of photographic stories, Pierce profiles these people. Through a website, discussion forum and social media, the aim is to provide ways for people to get involved.

Nominate Actionists in your circle at or email [email protected]

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jennifer D says:

    It would be interesting to know if he ever paid rent to the owner – did he pay services or does he think people should be handed accommodation paid for by whom? I recall when Johannesburg was a clean, law abiding place to live. Then people stopped paying their rent, made a mess in the buildings, damaged and broke lifts and owners were left without any recourse. Buildings that were once well maintained and looked after by tenants and owners are now derelict. The owners have abandoned their buildings or sold them for nothing. What is Mahlangu fighting for and against? The right to live free in a well maintained building?

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