Columns 22.7.2013 09:49 am

Left out in the cold

Twice this winter I have been called on to assist people evicted from their homes in inner city Johannesburg.

In the first case, 300 people were evicted from a building after losing a court case.

They claimed that they had offered to buy the building from the council, but it was sold for a much lower amount to new owners, who then evicted them.

They alleged that corrupt officials colluded to sell the building to the present owner.

It was sad to see people with their furniture on the pavement trying to sleep on a cold night. Some of them are still there after two months.

In a more recent case I saw the eviction of about 2 000 people from the Newtown Urban Village.

The feared Red Ants, with their helmets and red overalls, went from flat to flat in this housing complex near the Oriental Plaza.

There was furniture everywhere, with some of it getting lost or stolen.

The saddest evictee was Lucia Mdluli, who looks after her 17-year-old brain-damaged son, Lindokuhle.

In her desperation she prayed: “God, if you want to take him, take him, because he has suffered. I’ve done my best for him.”

According to Mdluli, he was brain-damaged 13 years ago due to negligence at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital when he was admitted with burn wounds.

In the apartheid days there were notorious evictions during the winter. So why is this still happening today?

It is really difficult unravelling the truth behind these evictions.

The Newtown flats are owned by the non-profit Johannesburg Housing Company (JHC), which bought them at a public auction in 2009.

This was after the Newtown Housing Cooperative was liquidated after defaulting on payments.

According to the JHC, the flats needed to be renovated and they offered alternative accommodation while this was taking place.

The renovation programme was meant to start on  May 1, 2010, but residents delayed matters by going to court.

There were three factions among the residents, each with different agendas. They funded three different sets of attorneys, exhausting every legal avenue until the final eviction order was granted.

The JHC alleged that the complex was run by illegal hijackers of the building who forcibly collected “rental” and evicted occupiers without court orders if they failed to pay.

The JHC’s legal costs were more than R1,5 million, so the costs for the opposing attorneys must have been similarly high.

It seems that there were unscrupulous people making enough money out of illegal rents to fund expensive lawyers.

We must trust our courts and they have ruled that this is a legal eviction.

But there are also unfortunate people like Mdluli, dedicated to her helpless son.

The JHC insists that it offered her alternative accommodation and she has now been allowed to move back into the building.

Johannesburg’s inner city is notorious for  buildings hijacked by ruthless people who make money out of terrorised residents.

It would really help if our police enforced the law rigorously at all times to stop these criminals  in their tracks early.

 

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