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Durban - About R100 million is owed to the Ulundi municipality by illegal tenants occupying luxury homes that were built by the old KwaZulu government
This money is for unpaid electricity and refuse collection. They have managed to escape the municipal debt collectors because they are not the registered owners of the houses. Among them are doctors, nurses, teachers, a magistrate, a policeman and current government officials.
The department responsible for the 95 houses is Public Works which said only 23 were illegally occupied and it was evicting the occupants.
But the Ulundi municipality’s Nkosenye Zulu tells a different story. He said about 80 houses had accumulated huge outstanding service bills.
Zulu was not sure how many houses were in arrears but said: “It is a lot more than 23.”
Fifteen of the houses, which were once allocated to MECs when the provincial government was based in Ulundi, are unoccupied.
The municipality also believes taxpayers’ money was being squandered by the provincial government which was paying rates on the properties (so far R24m) even though the people living there can afford to pay this themselves. This amount included rates for the unoccupied ministerial homes.
Zulu said the municipality had contemplated writing off the huge services debt after it realised that it was impossible to collect.
The houses, in the B-North suburb, were built by the old KwaZulu homeland government in the late 1980s and inherited by the provincial government.
When the ANC took over the provincial government from the IFP and moved the seat of power to Pietermaritzburg all senior officials relocated, leaving the properties unoccupied.
When The Mercury visited this week the properties were overgrown and one cleaner said “there are snakes living inside”.
Zulu said the culture of non-payment for municipal services started in the late ’90s.
“In 2001 we were owed R5.8m and wrote off the debt. “But between 2001 and 2006 we accumulated another R10m debt.
“Public Works offered to pay 50 percent and asked us to write off the rest.
“But we could not do this because we had already written off the previous debt,” said Zulu. Last year the municipality received a rates payment of R2.3m for all the houses from Public Works.
“Since 2000 the department has paid more than R24m for rates,” he said.
Ulundi mayor Johanna Manana said if the department had sold the houses earlier taxpayers would not have paid this huge bill.
“The people who occupy these houses can afford to pay their rates and services accounts. But they cannot do this because they are illegal. The department should transfer the houses to the municipality, which would then handle the process of registering the occupants.
“We don’t know how to collect outstanding debt at the moment. If we switch off electricity, the houses become vulnerable to vandalism and illegal connections,” she said.
Some of the illegal occupants said they were living in the houses with a hope that they would soon be allowed to buy them.
None admitted to not paying for electricity and refuse. Ward 12 councillor Thokozani Mkhize said a local housing committee had held a series of meeting with the department to try to persuade it to release the houses to the municipality to sell them.
Human Settlements and Public Works MEC Ravi Pillay said he could not respond to questions about non-payment of services because that was a municipal issue.
He said the department had instructed state attorneys to institute eviction processes if the illegal occupants refused to vacate the properties.
“The legal process is at an advanced stage,” said Pillay.
When asked what the department planned to do with the houses, Pillay said: “Those units not required for current purposes will be disposed of in terms of the departmental policy.”