Johannesburg - Lenasia property owners screamed and hurled abuse at the police on Monday morning when bulldozers began knocking down their illegally built houses.
The owner of an empty house got wind of the demolitions, and screeched from a bakkie with a mattress loaded on the back on her property. She was hoping to get the bed in to prove that the house was occupied before the bulldozers arrived.
After police removed her, she climbed back into the house through a window. Neighbours started coming out of their homes shouting abuse, saying there was a court order in place and police were not entitled to take action against them.
The bulldozers broke down her perimeter wall, but left the house intact.
Monday morning’s demolitions were a surprise move by Gauteng Housing Department officials who are trying to clamp down on illegally built houses in Lenasia. This time the focus was not on extension 13 where about 50 unoccupied houses were broken down last week, but in Lenasia South extension 4.
Following court action last week when the SA Human Rights Commission questioned the manner of the evictions, the department put on hold the demolitions in that area until November 23. And now they are looking at other areas hit by the same problem.
On Sunday the Housing Department took The Star on a visit to the extension 4 area to show them some of the luxury Tuscan-style houses that have been illegally built.
Hamida Asraff openly admitted that she had been warned three weeks ago to stop building. At the time, the roof was not on.
But on Sunday, the roof was on and she and her husband Rafick were hurriedly putting on the finishing touches and cleaning the house, making it ready to move in.
She candidly admitted she had been told not to continue, but said she was “forced” to do so because the house she was renting, also in Lenasia, had been sold by the owner and she had to leave.
“I have nowhere else to go. The residents’ committee in this area told me there was a court order and I could continue building,” she said.
She paid R5 000 as a deposit for the large stand and owed the “agent” R10 000. So far, she said, they had taken loans totalling R200 000 to build the house.
This infuriated housing officials who said they had warned residents who were building to stop.
Housing spokesman Motsamai Motlhaolwa said the residents had been warned repeatedly that they were not entitled to the land, but they simply continued building illegally.
“They have no plans. They bribe Joburg Water and City Power officials to connect them to their infrastructure and get free services. They also don’t take a small piece of land, but huge pieces where they build mansions on land designated for low-cost housing,” he said.
At another house under construction, a builder produced a half-page photocopied plan with an “approved” stamp. The house under construction did not resemble the plan even closely.
“This is what they do - produce false plans. This person is building on a tract of land destined for social housing,” he said.
The builder called the “owner” who, when hearing police and Housing officials were at his property, dropped the line, leaving the builder to face the music.
At another house, the illegal owner hung curtains across his windows in an effort to show that the house was occupied.
“There is nothing but building material in the house and they think if the curtains are [hung], we will not demolish because we believe the house is occupied,” he said.
Many of the invaded properties had small, one-room homes on them, obviously built in a hurry. “People were told to initially build small places and occupy them because once this was done, the house would not be demolished, and later they could build proper houses,” he said.
A neighbouring resident said: “We have invested a lot of money and now we find one-room shacks around us. This is devaluing the whole area.”
At the time of going to press, demolitions were occurring in Lenasia South extension 4.