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Whatever solution is found to the Lenasia housing problem, it must be “within the law”, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said on Wednesday.
He warned the Special Lenasia Intervention team - comprising representatives from communities, the government, the police, and other organisations - that illegal solutions would not be accepted.
“No agreement emanating from this room must be unlawful, even though the temptation might be there. I cannot implement unlawful solutions,” he said at the team's first meeting in Pretoria on Wednesday.
“We are a constitutional state and we have no choice but to operate within the law.”
Almost three weeks ago, the Gauteng housing department demolished about 50 houses in the area. The department said it was acting within the law because the houses were illegally built on government land.
Further demolitions were halted following a ruling by the High Court in Johannesburg.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) took the department to court, calling for demolitions to be stopped so it could investigate whether any human rights were infringed.
Sexwale on Wednesday said the state should protect citizens who found themselves with “illegal neighbours” unlawfully connecting electricity and water, which affected the values of their homes.
“I stress that because in this whole debate legal residents are forgotten and government stands for and with them.”
He said the state was also behind people who had been duped into buying the land.
The team is tasked with helping those who had acquired land illegally but had not started building, those whose houses had been demolished, and those who had finished building but had not moved in.
The minister called on people to work with the government in identifying and reporting criminals involved in the illegal sale of government land in Lenasia.
The SAHRC welcomed the establishment of the team.
“The SAHRC supports, and has always advocated for, an approach grounded in dialogue,” it said in a statement.
“A mediated approach recognises that our legal framework is built on the values enshrined in the Constitution, which are reflective of our history and struggle as a country. These must be made a reality for communities.” - Sapa