Property hijacking and the rule of law

Municipal tenants are livid about the poor maintenance of the flats they occupy in Buller Court, accusing the city of putting their lives at risk.

Our democracy is admired by numerous nations across the world and our constitution is lauded as one of the best. All these are pointless if they serve as ceremonial documents with no physical backing from the enforcement of the rule of law. This should be a collective effort that begins with those who are entrusted by the public to safeguard our democracy making pronouncements on activities that are a blatant disregard for the law and employ efforts to eradicate them.

Gauteng continues to suffer from a housing backlog despite it being the province that has provided the highest numbers of houses in comparison to others around the country. Celebrating past victories does nothing to address the current dire state we are immersed in presently. It is with this in mind that alternative solutions are to be sought that address these immediate challenges but also serve as future preventative measures.

A gnarling concern of mine has been the increased number of illegal occupants on private as well as state owned property as it hinders our objective to effectively address the housing shortage in this province and ultimately the country. I will be the first to admit that there are faults in the system with negative spillover effects that seek to undermine the process of allocation of houses in an equitable and fair manner.

These man made glitches in the system however are not to be used as a springboard that perpetuates lawlessness by citizens awaiting house allocations. The state will not tolerate cases such as the one in Orange Grove where citizens have helped themselves to vacant homes since 2017 as they continue to clash with the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC). We strongly condemn the illegal selling of property set aside for South Africans to foreign nationals that are mainly undocumented. This is a major grievance of the Orange Grove community, the corrupt nature of officials and the callous disregard for the needs of South Africans.

This however does not excuse nor does it condone the violent seizing these immovable assets by the community. It is rightfully regarded as property hijacking and those who are found guilty will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The public cannot take the law unto themselves and provide remedies that have not been tried and tested in the courts of this country. We are not a kangaroo state and will weed out any influence that seeks to paint this nation as such.

In instances such as the one in Orange Grove the public ought to work with law enforcement agencies and the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements. I am well aware that a vast number of officials benefit from undermining the system however my office remains accessible to deal with cases that are receiving little or no attention at municipal level. I  am committed to fighting this scourge and ensuring that dignity is  restored with regards to our system.

The Provincial Housing Demand Database and Allocations Policy are our guiding factors even though actual occurrences on the ground illustrate a gross disregard which has negatively attributed to the rise in house hijackings. Deserving recipients of houses who have registered as far back as 1996 have yet to receive homes. Corruption is pillaging from deserving recipients and individuals that contribute to this state of affairs deserve prosecution. My office has compiled a list of beneficiaries that have registered in 1996 and I am committed to ensuring that these overlooked beneficiaries are at the top of the list.

An undeniable fact is that a high number of houses meant for South Africans has fallen into the hands of foreign nationals. The illegal occupation of houses in Olievenhoutbosch in Tshwane is another indication of how widespread this issue is. We have focused much of our attention on eradicating slumlords and the restoration of dilapidated buildings for re-purposing displaced communities and neglected to adequately address illegal occupations formed by local groups who see themselves as victims of a flawed system and are now anarchists who have taken the law into their own hands.

Foreign nationals have also fallen victims due to the system as they are often sold homes that are government property and meant for South African beneficiaries illegally. We will be seizing back control of all illegally sold properties through evictions. It is necessary to severe this chain of lawless individuals so as to reiterate that impunity has no place in Gauteng. There are also imminent evictions of South Africans that have opted for the seditious route of hijacking properties as their actions are not in line with the Housing Policing and are in direct contradiction to what we seek to achieve.

The new Housing Policy is designed to ensure that at Provincial and municipal level, houses are allocated in a free and fair manner and that the allocation process ensures sustainability and good governance amongst other attributes. This cannot happen with the prevailing disregard for the law by the public and some corrupt officials. In working together with law enforcement we shall ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and successfully evicted from all properties that are currently occupied illegally.

Illegal occupations undermine the rule of law and our constitution and it is for these reasons that I will be approaching the Constitutional Court to seek clarity on the rights of government govern in a manner that will condemn those who continue to place our democracy under a dark cloud. There is only one way to decrease the housing backlog in Gauteng and that is through upholding the law and enforcing it. We cannot prevent migration into the province as it remains the economic hub of the nation and offers green pastures to many but we can work tirelessly and systematically to route out all elements that seek to diminish the value work that has been done thus far.

Lebo Keswa is a Rhodes Universty Journalism and Politics graduate and a Media Consultant. She writes in her personal capacity.