The clamour against government intervention in an act of criminality committed by a syndicated network in Lenasia has been deafening. Yet the silence on the fraudulent act of the perpetrator, developer and homeowner is palpable and puzzling.
The spotlight has been directed on the government and its law-enforcement agencies whose responsibility it is to uphold law and order while protecting and championing the rights of all in a constitutional democracy. It is undoubtedly a very delicate responsibility in a setting where inequalities are glaring and basic human rights are seemingly overemphasised than accompanying responsibilities.
The balance to be struck, indeed, is delicate here.
What the Lenasia illegal land invasion and the subsequent clamour helped to underscore is the existence of inherent contradictions and incongruent expectations that various interest groups will inadvertently exert on democracy.
While many of these groups fervently embrace the notion of law-abiding and orderliness, they are unashamedly quick to condemn law-enforcers who seek to restore order where anarchy is nurtured.
And the condemnations in many instances are commonly emotional and based on whether the intervention is justifiably proportionate to the illegal act.
At face value, when considered within the humanistic perspective, there is nothing amiss with such condemnations yet questionable when viewed within the realm of law and its objective application or court judgment.
In a widely reported matter of the illegal land invasion in Lenasia, the government response has been projected as utterly inhumane and outright insensitive.
In fact, it has been roundly condemned by many interest groups as uncivil in a modern democracy.
However, in the midst of all the sound and fury, there is little by way of a sustainable alternative proposal posited by those who assert insensitivity and inhumanity on the part of government. Instead they call for the intervention to be halted while anarchy continues to flourish at the expense of the law-abiding citizens patiently waiting for government-sponsored shelter in a land legally earmarked for such projects. It is such delicate contradictions in terms of expectations that make the work of government difficult.
As much as the government would like a different solution to the impasse, how do you reconcile the fact that the rights of thousands of qualifying poor people are compromised by the continuing illegal occupation of land in Lenasia?
How do you explain to the law-abiding poor that lawlessness is acceptable when perpetrated by those with resources to illegally buy and challenge court decisions?
In this instance, is there a median course that will placate both expectations?
In our zealousness to portray government as inhumane, we overlook the fact that government’s benevolence has been exploited and overstretched by illegal occupiers.
Since 2006 through the investigation and subsequent findings of the George Fivaz inquiry, the government has been patiently and honestly engaging with illegal land occupants.
From that time, a number of consultative meetings were held with various stakeholders representing the interests of the illegal land occupants.
While attempting to resolve the matter amicably, the government was also put under pressure by the Association of Property Owners and People Against Land Invasion whose assets were affected by illegal occupation.
Clearly, the government effort to address the matter was inclusive and transparent but its goodwill was and continues to be relentlessly abused. The consultations have been deliberately protracted and none of the voices that are currently screaming were interested in the resolution of this matter.
As a result, the government was left with no alternative but to seek legal recourse from the courts of law.
In pursuit of legal resolve, which is a strong indication of government’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law, the following process in brief was adhered to:
In September 2010, an interim court order prohibiting the department from evicting and demolishing the illegal properties was granted.
The applicants were also interdicted from further erecting and constructing structures on the properties belonging to the Department of Housing until a final order was issued.
While the department adhered to the interim order, the applicants continued to erect structures and invade government owned stands.
The department opened several cases of contempt of court against the illegal occupiers in December 2010.
Thirteen builders were arrested on site while violating the interim court order.
In March 2011, the court also ordered that the matter be referred for mediation, so that the illegal occupiers can explain how they acquired the properties.
Of the 164 illegal occupants, merely 11 responded, and only three were found to be on the demand database (the department’s housing waiting list). As a result mediation process broke down.
After the failure of mediation, the department approached the court to seek a final order.
Finally on September 29 2011 the department was granted an order by the South Gauteng High Court.
Briefly, what the court order entails is that the applicants must vacate the illegally occupied land and remove or demolish the structures within 30 days failing which the respondent (government) reserves the right to do so. The order did not compel the department to provide alternative accommodation given the financial status of the illegal occupants.
It is in the context of these efforts, both legal and consultative, that the intervention of government should be appreciated. What we should applaud here is the commitment of government to fight corruption and lawlessness in this province.
The unpalatable reality is: if we continue to be tolerant to criminality and blatant disregard for law the entire country will be thrown into the abyss of anarchy where criminal syndicates call the shots.
As proud South Africans it is not what we stand for and it will never be what we would like to bequeath to posterity. It is therefore our responsibility to rid our society of such elements because it is their unsavoury acts that seek to undermine and mock the democracy that we all cherish.
n Mokonyane is the premier of Gauteng.