It’s a veritable rabbit warren of twists and turns and dead-ends, constructed both flimsy and solid with one way in and seemingly no way out – and that’s just the legal snarl up around 39 Davies Street in Doornfontein where three children died this week after a wall collapsed on them.
Behind the gaping holes in the wall which still moves alarmingly when pressure is placed on it, nearly 100 people live in shacks, some brick, some wooden, and it’s cleaner than one would expect in a place with limited services.
The pavement outside the wall where the three died has been swept clean and people step into the street rather than walk across it.
Johannes Ngcobo claims to be the owner of the property, and says he has lived there for 16 years.
“I bought this property, and I’m losing so much money,” Ngcobo says. He says he acquired it from a “crook” agency, which tried to sell the property to someone else while he was buying it.
Another company also tried to auction the entire property, he claims.
It’s all very messy, and the matter is already before court, Ngcobo says, adding he is waiting for them to decide what they are going to do. He notes there are two banks also apparently interested.
The mortar between the bricks of the inner wall that collapsed appear to be more sand than cement, collapsing into dust when squeezed.
Nomzamo Zondo of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri), which has been at loggerheads with the city of Johannesburg council over the matter, says she is waiting for a report from a structural engineer.
“We don’t know what their current position is. We were told they have tents and nowhere to put them. They are also uncomfortable providing tents because they know in terms of their disaster management plan, people have to be moved out of the tents within 72 hours to somewhere more permanent, and there is nowhere for them to go,” Zondo says.
Seri and city officials are meeting on Tuesday to hear what is going to happen on the way forward.
Property Hijacking Investigative Unit director Victoria Rammala says the city has been engaging the owner of the property about this matter.
“It is the owner’s responsibility to demolish the property should they wish to do so. In this instance, however, the owner did not indicate such intent,” Rammala says.
“The owner is willing and prepared to redevelop his property; however, the owner could not do so due to the application for eviction being opposed by Seri.”
There are two issues facing the city fathers when it comes to relocation of residents of bad buildings: space and cost.
It is for these reasons the city will be expropriating abandoned buildings while it looks for ways to partner with the private sector to redevelop these properties.
Some residents crammed into the space say they were happy enough living here, citing low rents and proximity to work, but others are concerned about the ever-widening cracks appearing in the formally built parts of the decades-old building.
Francis Chigumbu says he came to Johannesburg from the Eastern Cape and is living here with his wife Bongiwe and three children because they can’t afford to live elsewhere,
He lives on the Davies Street boundary wall, and the collapse left a gaping hole in the wall that lets the autumn chill in, and it is only going to grow worse as winter approaches.
“My wife and I are not working in a place that pays enough money to even make it on to a low-cost housing list. We get benefits from Sassa (SA social security) for my two children to help us.”
“It’s nice to live here; it’s peaceful,” Chigumbu says.