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Durban - A private low-cost housing estate in Cato Manor that has been hijacked by people who refuse to pay rent, and who have chased away those who do, resembled a battle zone on Monday after they ignored a court order for them to leave.
To prevent police and security guards from removing them, the illegal occupiers padlocked the gates of the Riverview complex and positioned tyres, doused in a flammable liquid, around the buildings.
They threatened to set them alight if the sheriff forced them out.
They refuse to pay rent because, they say, they were promised they would be able to buy the units.
Police used teargas to disperse the crowds at 6am.
They were defiant, saying they were prepared to “die” rather than leave.
However, their attorney, Senzo Ngwane, conceded on Monday that the legal route had been exhausted and they needed to make arrangements to leave.
But still women sprinkled muti at the main gate to “confuse” police and guards if they stepped inside.
Riverview is owned by Sohco Property Investments which built several complexes in Durban and other cities with the idea of marketing them as affordable and quality homes for families earning between R2 500 and R7 500 a month.
In January, Durban High Court Judge Jerome Mnguni issued an order against the illegal occupiers and told them to vacate the development.
This ended years of legal action instituted by Sohco Property Investments against the tenants and others in two other other housing schemes in Durban in which it had invested hundreds of millions.
Two years ago, when Sohco launched the eviction applications in all its projects, it was owed R9.5 million in rent and there were concerns it would be forced into liquidation.
In court papers Sohco said it had invested R75m in the 330 two-bedroomed unit complex at Riverview, but that the estate had been hijacked by gangsters who were knocking down walls, chasing out lawful tenants and taking rent from others.
On Monday, Sohco chief executive Heather Maxwell urged the illegal tenants to move out voluntarily, failing which “evictions will have to take place”.
The head of the eThekwini Municipality’s housing committee, Nigel Gumede, said he was aware of the matter, but that it “had nothing to do with the municipality” because the flats were privately owned.
“If we intervene, we will not look at them as an evicted group, but on (individual) independent assessments to check if they qualify for RDP houses or not,” he said.
The illegal tenants said they were waiting for ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala to address them. Pleas to Human Settlements MEC Ravi Pillay to intervene also fell on deaf ears.
Their spokesman, who said he did not want to be named as he was a government employee, denied that they were paying him or anyone else rent. Contributions were to pay their attorney, he said.
Police spokesman Vincent Mdunge said no arrests had been made.
It was unclear when evictions would take place.