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South Africa: Majority Living in Hijacked Buildings are not Locals & cannot be Evicted

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says it is not the responsibility of the South African government to provide housing for ill...

Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says it is not the responsibility of the South African government to provide housing for illegal immigrants living in hijacked buildings.

Responding to questions about the Johannesburg fire that claimed the lives of at least 73 people in the early hours of Thursday, Ntshavheni said South Africa does not have a housing crisis on its hands.

Speaking during a post-cabinet briefing in Pretoria on Thursday, the minister was asked whether the government had a national strategy to deal with hijacked buildings in the country's city centres.

“The fact that it is a hijacked building does not change much, there are lives that have been lost,” she said. TimesLIVE reported earlier that a fire broke out in a building in Johannesburg's city centre causing multiple fatalities and injuries. 

The death toll currently stands at 73 and is likely to increase.

City of Johannesburg emergency services spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said firefighters were alerted to the fire in a building on the corner of Delvers and Albert streets at about 1.30am.

Ntshavheni said President Cyril Ramaphosa has been updated on the situation and the national government stands ready to assist the Gauteng province.

“We are aware that in hijacked buildings there is no supply of electricity, water and there will be all sorts of things, but we don’t want to speculate on the causes of that fire,” she said.

“Whether it’s an indication that there is a housing problem, no it's not, because the majority of those people who stay and reside in hijacked buildings are not South African and they are not in this country legally and the government cannot provide housing to illegal immigrants.

Minister: Majority Living in Hijacked Buildings are not South Africans

“The minister of human settlements continues to work with the cities, municipalities and provincial governments to provide housing for all South Africans.”

Responding to whether there was a national strategy to deal with hijacked buildings, she said: “Buildings in cities are the responsibility of the metropolitan governments, local municipalities and the provinces that they reside in.”

All the national government can do is to support the departments of human settlements and co-operative governance, she said, “and in this case the department of home affairs deals with immigration in the country and the police to support the efforts of the city to deal with hijacked buildings that have been the dens of crime in our country”.

Ntshavheni referred to police minister Bheki Cele's Operation Shanela which was conducted in the CBD, saying noone was found in the buildings because the “majority of the people in the CBD are illegal in the country and therefore they cannot be there in the presence of the police, they run away”.”

Gauteng human settlement MEC Lebogang Maile confirmed that the building is owned by the City of Johannesburg and was leased to an unknown NGO a few years ago.

“Apparently they abandoned it and I think we will have proper and factual information once the city has done all its work.” Maile said the government has identified three buildings to house displaced families.

“There are about 141 households [that have been affected] and more than 300 people who have survived and who will need accommodation.” Maile said he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation of who was responsible for the fire.

“At the time that the report is released, we should be able to respond to the facts on the table. As the executive authority responsible for human settlement in the province, we have delegated human settlement functions to the city.

“We expect them to execute them to the best of their abilities and in line with the prescripts of the law ... Should there be wrongdoing on the part of the city, we will also act against the city, entity or individuals. We have to act harshly and decisively.” 

Meanwhile, Eyewitness News reports that, thousands of illegal occupants of buildings within Joburg’s inner city cannot be evicted due to a Constitutional court ruling.

The issue of Joburg’s hijacked buildings comes in the wake of last week’s Marshalltown fire tragedy where 77 people lost their lives. Non-government organisations represent thousands of illegal occupants who have hijacked state and privately-owned buildings within Joburg.

Property attorney Greg Vermaak said the living conditions in some of these buildings are inhumane.

"I genuinely believe that there are buildings more dangerous to live in than living on the street, but it’s not appropriate, people should never live on the street in a country like this, but the people of 80 Albert street would have been better off sleeping on the pavement than in that building," said Vermaak.

But the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri) which represents illegal occupants of about 20 buildings in the inner city, disputes this.

Seri spokesperson Edward Molopi said: "Those who approach us have made the choice that the streets are not better than the dilapidated building. Why? Because these are mothers with children, these are young people who cannot be found to live on the street because of the safety concerns".

A 2011 Concourt ruling made it clear that if the city of Joburg cannot provide temporary emergency accommodation for illegal occupants of a building, they cannot be evicted. - Online Sources 

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