Johannesburg - A solution to the Lenasia land invasions has to be found within 48 hours. But there will be casualties.
These were the words of Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale after he defused a tense situation in Lenasia on Monday when scuffles and verbal abuse took place between the illegal land invaders and legal owners.
Sexwale warned that the solutions would not be popular with everyone and could result in the demolition of improperly and unsafely built houses, evictions and the seizure of property.
“We have undertaken not to continue demolishing, so residents have to stop building,” he said.
After a meeting with the Gauteng Housing Department officials in the morning, Sexwale met both opposing parties at the Lenasia South Civic Centre. They were initially kept apart by riot police.
Sexwale asked the police to leave, saying it was going to be a peaceful gathering.
“I am here to tell you the truth, not to win friends and votes. The land was not taken from a farmer but from government. That land was given and sold to people in a criminal manner with no authority from government.
“Some people were tricked into believing it was legal, and others knew it was illegal and still purchased [it],” he said.
With both parties, he said, it was their duty to come forward and disclose information about who they had bought it from.
Sexwale said he was aware that people who had tried to come forward with information were being intimidated.
“We are in the process of investigating and intercepting threatening mails,” he said.
“We will try to assist the innocent. The guilty will face the law, but maybe lesser punishment if they come forward,” he said.
None of the illegal houses had proper building plans, he said, and the National Home Builders Regulatory Council would be brought on board.
Sexwale said there could not be one solution for Lenasia. Each case had to be considered. He intimated that evictions and demolitions could result.
“The solutions will not make everyone happy, but the law has to be abided by. There will be no solution which will promote lawlessness and criminality and help the criminals and syndicates.”
Government officials were also guilty of aiding and abetting criminals, and this included City Power and Joburg Water officials who were giving illegal homes connections.
“We are here also to protect innocent people who are here legally and find illegal houses built next door to them and whose electricity and water is stolen through illegal connections. They, too, have rights and we, as government, have to protect them.”
Sexwale said that within 48 hours a meeting would be called, including affected parties, Gauteng Housing, city officials, the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the builders’ regulatory council and the Housing Development Agency. His chief of staff would monitor the meeting.
“We have to remember that we have two court orders on the table. One allowing us to demolish and one whereby the Human Rights Commission wants to monitor the way in which we demolish,” he said.
Residents would not be able to claim alternative accommodation from government, he said.
“This does not involve the poorest of the poor. This is a middle-class problem in Lenasia,” he said.
Before the meeting, Sexwale was taken to Lenasia Extension 13 and Lenasia South Extension 4, where he was shown a number of illegal houses.
“How do you steal land like this? You cannot hide the evidence like a cellphone. We see before our eyes evidence of illegally built houses on stolen land,” he said.
Skumbuzo Mncwango was found by Sexwale in an unfinished house. He had quickly moved furniture in to show the house was occupied, hoping it would be spared from demolition.
“The house is mine. I know the land is not, but I paid someone R25 000 for other land in Lens and then I was told I couldn’t build because it was for RDP housing, so the man gave me this piece to build on,” he said.
HRC chairman Mabedle Mushwanais, who accompanied Sexwale, expressed shock during the walkabout at the extent of the illegal building and at the size of some of these houses.