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Johannesburg - Scores of residents were thrown out of their apartments in a morning blitz on rent defaulters in Pennyville, Soweto, on Monday.
The problems in the area in New Canada have been going on for some time.
Sporadic scuffles broke out between the Red Ants and some irate occupants, protesting against the forceful removal of their goods.
“Kom hierso julle! Kom! Kom! Kom! Staan hierso, elke twee meters! (Come here. Stand two metres apart from each other),” yelled a Red Ants supervisor.
This was as he ordered the men to form a ring of security around the triple-storey apartments.
A burly woman sat at the corner, holding a stash of papers with the list of defaulters.
More and more Red Ants swarmed the apartments and climbed up the stairs, removing the goods.
Three police armoured vehicles were located at three intersections along the main street, leading into the settlement.
In the ensuing melee, a teary Iris Louw, 30, watched helplessly as the Red Ants plucked her furniture and other goods.
Within minutes, her goods had added to the muddled scene of heaps of mattresses, clothing and electric appliances, including refrigerators and washing machines.
In rising temperatures, Louw’s one-year-old son, Caleb, found sanctuary among the piles of furniture.
In all, more than 150 residents were evicted on Monday.
Pennyville is a mixed-housing settlement, with different housing options for middle- and high-income beneficiaries.
It comprises about 1 600 RDP houses, 600 Joshco (Joburg Social Housing Company) communal units and more than 200 affordable rental units. Most residents are former inhabitants of Zamimpilo informal settlement in Riverlea, about 15 minutes from Pennyville.
More than 1 600 families were moved from Zamimpilo to Pennyville in 2008.
Louw, like other occupants, admitted to having defaulted in her rent. However, the mother-of-three cited the abysmal conditions of the apartments as reasons for non-payment.
“The toilets are blocked, the bathrooms are mouldy and the walls are wet and cracked because of leaking pipes,” she said.
“Our complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Now, they are evicting us. There wasn’t any warning. Now, I don’t have a place to go.
Soon, my two kids will return home to find that they are homeless.”
The property owners, Diluculo Properties, Absa’s division to finance commercial property, said they had obtained a court order from the Johannesburg High Court to execute the evictions on November 7.
The company’s attorney, Greg Vermaak, said concerted efforts to accommodate the residents had not borne any fruit.
He said the firm had, owing to “a full-blown rental boycott by a substantial number of tenants”, launched the Masihlalisane (let’s live together in harmony) campaign.
In terms of the campaign, residents were to have the balance of their arrears cancelled if they resumed their rental payments for three years without interruption, signed a new lease and paid a portion of their areas, accrued from February, last year.
Their rent was to be reduced from R2 500 to R2 000.
“A lot of people came forward and signed the new leases. These (the evicted tenants) are the ones who refused (to sign and pay their rent) and so we obtained the eviction order,” Vermaak said.
He denied allegations that the units were leaking and that they were poorly maintained.