The City of Johannesburg is adamant that it will ensure that “anarchy” does not “prevail” as it continues to demolish houses despite the ongoing national state of disaster that prohibits evictions.
Three families in Extension 7 Alexandra were left homeless and begging for shelter after the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) paid them a surprise visit last week and demolished their houses. No court order or eviction notice was given to them prior to the demolition, they say, which would have enabled them to look for alternative accommodation. Neighbours and passers-by were surprised that the double storey structures, neatly built over some years not far from the Juskei River, were not demolished sooner.
One of the owners, Thulebona Mhlungu, reflects on the matter and explains why he decided to erect his house there: “We have been on the housing list since 2002 and a lot of people have jumped the queue and were allocated houses; even those who don’t qualify are now in houses,” he says and showed his C-form, a document proving he is the potential beneficiary of a house.
“Look, my family was growing and we could not continue cramping in the family house, hence when I saw an open space I took an opportunity to build. After all, building everywhere for shelter is a widespread phenomenon in Alexandra. I don’t know why this place was targeted.”
He says he is heartbroken at the action taken by the councillor and the cops as they did not listen when they tried to explain their situation. He says he spent about R200,000 since 2018 building a 12-room house and wonders if he’ll ever be compensated. “They just came with bulldozers and started crushing the houses to the ground. “I’m worried they left this space like this with this rubble. No fencing to prevent invasion. Over time, this will turn into a crime den and a spot of illegal activities. Its either we’ll come back to build again or other people will. This is the norm around here,” he says.
Another devastated owner, Edith Mahlangu, says that no regard was given to the children, as young as four years old, who watched their homes being demolished. “What kind of government is this?” she asks.
Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson, Wayne Minnaar, says they had a court order and long warned residents to resist land invasion and building housing structures near the river, which is dangerous when flooded. “There was no council approved plan or any other legal documentation allowing them to build and this area is about 50m near the Jukskei River, a disaster waiting to happen. There was also even no objection when this demolition happened. That tells you not everybody is in support of this [land occupation],” he says.
“We also learned that no individual can build such a lot of rooms for himself. The plan was to hire them out and enrich himself. This is one of the reasons we have been having power interruptions lately because people build a lot of back rooms and connect power illegally. We need to stop this. Unfortunately we cannot provide alternative accommodation, they must go back to where they stayed before,” says councillor of Ward 105, Tefo Raphadu.
On why people are still being evicted during the lockdown, Member of the Mayoral Committee for Housing in the City, councillor Mlungisi Mabaso, says: “We are not going to allow anarchy to prevail. People break the law intentionally in lockdown thinking no action will be taken. We cannot allow that. You break the law in the lockdown we’ll act in the lockdown.”