Following the tragic death of three children on Monday after a wall in an abandoned warehouse building in which they were living collapsed on them, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba has said the expropriation of abandoned buildings and those whose owners cannot be identified would help avert such incidents.
Speaking on PowerFM this morning, Mashaba sent condolences to the families of the three children.
He said the increase in the hijacking of buildings and businesses was a contributing factor to such incidents.
He said the building where the children died had been abandoned and people had built shacks inside.
Last year, Mashaba led a contingent of police that raided abandoned and hijacked buildings in the city centre, with much of the activity happening on Davis Street. At the time, the mayor reported 85 buildings had been hijacked, but that number has ballooned to 265 buildings to date.
However, Mashaba said the city was making progress with regards to effectively dealing with the issue of hijacked buildings.
“Unfortunately, we work in a highly political environment where sometimes there are people who are beneficiaries of this chaos, so they do everything possible to delay our implementation of the plan,” he said.
He said the plan entails ridding the city of criminal elements and the intent to expropriate buildings whose owners could not be identified and located.
Once expropriated, Mashaba said the buildings would be offered to the private sector for development, adding that late last year, 13 buildings were part of such a deal, with the city awaiting proposals outlining how much the private developers would be willing to invest in the buildings.
Affordable accommodation and student accommodation would be one of the key developments, Mashaba said, as well as creating employment opportunities.
“What is important for us as the government is controlling the prices they are going to charge because we are focusing on affordable accommodation,” he said.
Mashaba said at the next council meeting he would make a presentation on 68 buildings that council needed to approve so they could also be offered to private developers.
The mayor plans to expropriate a further 146 buildings that will be handed over to private owners for development if the proposals submitted by those developers is approved.
He said the owner of the building whose wall collapsed on the three children on Monday was unknown at this stage, but the mayor said he had requested the city’s group forensic investigators who would work closely with the metropolitan’s housing department to urgently look into the matter.
The mayor said the forensic investigators and the housing department had raided the building last year and made arrangements that the occupants were evacuated for their safety’s sake, but a human rights lawyer objected to the evacuation, which saw the matter end up in court.
“You’ve got people who have a personal interest in this, including so-called human rights lawyers, because for them it is business to be seen to be protecting our people living in this type of very deplorable living conditions,” Mashaba said.
He said two months ago he wrote to the minister of public works urging that the expropriation of such buildings be fast-tracked and to give consent that expropriated buildings should belong to the City of Johannesburg instead of the national government. He said he had not received a response yet, which prompted him to write a follow-up letter yesterday morning.
He said the matter was pressing for the City, which has a 300 000 housing backlog, with some of its residents living in deplorable areas, and the matter was made more urgent by criminal syndicates that turned abandoned or hijacked buildings into drug dens or brothels.
Mashaba said the City was in the middle of expropriating some of these buildings, with three buildings earmarked, and that should public works give the permission he had requested, by the end of the next three weeks, these three would have been expropriated.