Johannesburg - Five cases are in court over the illegal selling of government land in Lenasia, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said on Monday.
“Ten cases were investigated by the Hawks. Seven suspects were arrested. Five cases are on trial and two were withdrawn pending further investigations,” Mokonyane told reporters in Johannesburg.
Out of these cases only one person had been convicted so far. Hlengiwe Ximba entered into a plea bargain with the State and was sentenced to six year's imprisonment with a three-year suspended sentence.
Other people implicated in the fraudulent selling of land were out on bail pending the outcomes of their trials. They included an official from the City of Johannesburg.
“We are dealing here with organised crime, we are dealing with something that has been institutionalised,” Mokonyane said.
Last week, housing department spokesperson Motsamai Motlhaolwa said residents were told in 2006 not to build houses on the land.
A court order was obtained to stop them from doing so, but a syndicate convinced them otherwise.
“They forged the head of department's signature and used the department's letterhead,” he alleged.
Mokonyane said a court interdict in 2010 prevented the department of housing from demolishing the homes, and prevented residents from building new homes on the land.
However, out of 164 illegal occupants, only 11 had co-operated with the department.
“Out of that 11, only three have legal documentation,” Mokonyane said.
She said the government was helping these three residents. They would also be prioritised when new RDP houses were built, because of their co-operation.
She said the government had been sympathetic to the residents.
Although it was ordered to demolish the houses in September last year when residents continued to erect houses despite the interdict, it began doing so only last week.
The department of housing began destroying the houses on Thursday and Friday. About 50 houses had been destroyed so far and another 113 had yet to be demolished.
Mokonyane said the demolitions had to send a strong message to other fraudsters continuing to illegally sell land in Gauteng.
She advised people to be wary of fraudsters posing as housing department agents selling land at cheap prices.
“If the land is being sold to you, first verify ownership with the registrar of deeds before paying or before occupying the land,” she said.
According to Mokonyane, the demolition of houses in Lenasia was in the best interest of poor residents.
“We are acting in the interests of the most vulnerable - the poor who are in the back yards, who are in the shacks, whose plans are delayed because the department has plans for that piece of land.”
The Gauteng government has said that the land on which the houses are built was meant for government housing.
South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) officials visited Lenasia on Monday to gather information from residents affected by the demolition.
It had earlier secured an urgent court interdict to halt the demolitions for 24 hours.
SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena said the judge asked it to conduct a poll on how many people were affected by the demolitions.
The commission was also asked to determined how many houses had already been destroyed, and how many more were earmarked to go.
“This gives us time to consult with the residents to establish factual evidence that may be of assistance to all parties in this matter,” said Mangena.
The officials interviewed people whose houses were on the list earmarked for demolition, including men and women carrying children on their backs. They entered the details on forms
Mangena later said the information collected would be presented in court on Tuesday. - Sapa