Illegal churches are springing up in many Joburg suburbs, causing noise and parking nuisance to neighbouring residents.
However, most times, the City of Joburg takes months, even years, to take action, having to first exhaust the legal processes.
In Orange Grove alone, along Louis Botha Avenue, there are eight churches operating without proper consent.
One church in particular, Winners Chapel International, opposite the Doll House roadhouse, has been allegedly operating illegally for three years.
In October, the City of Joburg finally instituted action against the church by applying for an interdict because Winners Chapel is accused of being in breach of several by-laws. The church had until November 6 to submit a replying affidavit, which it failed to do. A few days later, the church obtained condonation from the court to submit its response by November 26, which it again failed to do, although it did submit it a day later. The matter was postponed to the end of January.
The church has been rezoned by the council as a place of worship, but failed to submit building plans, and continued converting and altering outside buildings and neighbouring shops.
The church’s legal representative admitted to The Star last year that plans had not been submitted.
In terms of council by-laws, said Marian Laserson, who specialises in town-planning issues, the conversion of a building to an alternative use cannot start until building plans have been approved.
Parking regulations had to be adhered to, so it was unlikely that any plans would be approved as there is no parking in the area. Using the parking across the road, at the Doll House, which the church is doing, is not enough to get plans approved, she said.
Enraged residents claim that initially services were held once or twice a week, but now they were held every night.
They claim electronic bands play until all hours of the morning and it is no longer just prayer services which are held. There are many Jewish people living in the neighbourhood who claim the loud noise disrupts their Friday night observations and other religious holidays.
City of Joburg spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane confirmed that legal action had been taken against the church and said that Judge Phillip Burochowitz was not prepared to hear the matter and postponed it sine die, with costs reserved.
“The city’s attorney is busy preparing our replying affidavit,” he said.
Roger Chadwick of the Orange Grove Residents’ Association said the area was plagued by illegal churches popping up all over Louis Botha Avenue, in empty buildings and shops, including in a heritage building.
“We will be doing a proper count and submitting our complaints to the council, but they are very slow to act,” he said.