The countinuing housing problem in the country was highlighted yet again on Tuesday when the owner of a portion of land situated a few kilometres from the St George’s Hotel along the R21-highway turned to the Pretoria High Court in an urgent attempt to interdict about 4 000 illegal squatters from interfering with the landlord’s attempts to prevent more people from moving on to this piece of land.
Judge Hans Fabricius gave the Lyttelton police permission to supervise the re-erection of the control station on the property, which houses the security guards employed by the landowner – a company which falls within the M&T group of companies.
The squatters were also interdicted from interfering with the security company in exercising its duties and they may not threaten anyone.
The application was sparked by an incident last month when some of the squatters burnt down a guard house.
This incident was sparked by the owner of the property denying the squatters permission to erect a church structure on the land.
The landowner was not willing to allow this, as legal action is still pending against the Ekurhuleni Metro Council for it to make a plan with the illegal occupants.
The landowner was of the opinion that the goal of the church was to embed the squatters as a permanent fixture on his property.
The landowner said that since the guard house was burnt down on May 15, the officials of the security company he employed were threatened when they tried to assert control.
The security officers had to visit the area in plain clothes and, at great risk to their safety, as they had to report back to the landowner on whether more people had moved in.
The court was told that the only way in which further land invasions could be curbed was by having security guards present.
They now fear that full-scale land invasion will begin and that it will be impossible to reverse the situation.
When the present landowner bought the land in 2007, it was earmarked for development and there were only a handful of farmworkers living there and about 210 other families.
Illegal occupants have moved in since then and a squatter camp mushroomed. There are now about 1 400 shacks in the area.
The landowner erected a fence around the squatter camp and employed a security company to prevent any more illegal occupants from moving in until the council had made a plan with the squatters.
The court was told the problem with the squatters was fuelled by various empty promises the local ward councillor had made to the homeless people.
In opposing Tuesday’s court action, the squatters said they asked the landowner for permission to erect a church, as they had organised a religious event for the weekend of May 12.
They said they, in any event, needed a community church and community centre in the camp.
They said they obtained permission to build a temporary church, which they did erect.
The church was, however, broken down and the building materials were confiscated.
The community members said they were extremely upset and an uprising ensued.
They said some of them went to the yard of the security guards, forced open the gate and broke down the control post, which they said “was really only a small shack”. They then set it alight.
The squatters said they did not know the culprits behind this act of arson, adding there were about 4 000 individuals living in the area.
The police were called in and the community said conflict occurred.
They said they then took a resolution that no more security guards would be allowed on the property because of the “inhumane manner” in which they treated the people.
The squatters said the guards often broke down the shacks and terrorised the people.
Judge Fabricius was told that the community desperately needed basic amenities such as a church, but that the landowner refused to entertain these needs.
They said some of the people on the property had lived there since the 1980s.