eThekwini Municipalitys Land Invasion Unit springs into action on Sunday as a group of land invaders try to get the roof up on a private property in Stockville Valley. Evidently once the roof is on, a court order is required to remove the squatters. The land is very steep, and unsuitable for housing. The local councillor is to propose that landowners be charged for the costs of stopping invaders. PICTURE: Andreas Mathios SA CAN

Durban - Durban’s Land Invasion Unit was called out twice to Gillitts on Sunday after squatters tried to build a structure on an open piece of private land.

The unit, whose task is to prevent the establishment of informal settlements, had to twice remove a large group of people who tried putting up informal housing in Stockville Valley.

Matthew Jackson of the Gillitts 2 Community Police Forum said about 20 to 30 people had initially congregated at the foot of a hill leading into the property at about 8am.

They arrived, dressed in overalls, in a bakkie also carrying corrugated iron and other building materials. The squatters began erecting structures after clearing the vegetation, he said, adding that the city’s Land Invasion Unit pounced about two hours later.

Ward 10 councillor, Rick Crouch, says landowners are not taking action to stop squatting in the area. He wants to propose to the council that it charges when the unit has to take people off their land.

Crouch believes the squatters are not indigent.

“They seem to know the law and that if they erect the structures and complete a roof they cannot be evicted,” he said.

Chairman of the Outer West Ratepayers’ Association, Alan Smaldon, said the unit was called again in the afternoon when the group returned. However, he said they seemed to be removing the materials they had put up in the morning rather than attempting to rebuild.

Smaldon said the group was particularly troublesome, as they could not be arrested unless the landowner charged them for trespassing.

Without “any real” consequences, Smaldon fears the group will return.

“There is already an informal settlement on the northernmost part of this 400 hectare property. All we are trying to do is protect our ratepayers,” he said.

“The influx of squatters increases the crime problem and decreases property values.”

Smaldon said the association had been trying to “deal” with about 300 families who had lived on the land since 2005.

“At one stage we had an agreement with the previous city manager (Mike Sutcliffe) that the squatters would be moved (to a) housing project but it never materialised,” he said. “They are desperate for land and housing. I can understand that, but this has got to be stopped or we will have problems like this for some time to come.”

Crouch wants private land owners who fail to secure or monitor their properties to reimburse the city for costs incurred in sending out its Land Invasion Unit.

“Owners of these big plots of land just don’t care. It’s very difficult to get rid of squatters once they are on your land. The owner would then have to go to court for an eviction order as well as find them alternative accommodation to enforcing it,” he said.

Crouch said he would put forward a motion to the council that property owners pay every time the Land Invasion Unit has to respond to a land grab on their property because of the owner’s failure to secure and monitor the property.

Crouch said the amount should be added to the owner’s rates statement and invested back into the unit.

Crouch said the municipality had conducted three surveys of the land and concluded it was not conducive for the building of housing.

“It costs about R85 000 to build an RDP house. With the area being so hilly it would cost double that and the municipality has said they are not interested in buying that land.”

According to a resident, the land had belonged to a VN Naik but after his death some years ago, it seemed to be a “free for all”.

The resident is one of a handful of families who live in formal homes on the land for which they pay a minimal fee.

Thabo Mofokeng, eThekwini Municipality’s spokesman, confirmed the Land Invasion Unit had been called to foil an attempt to invade the land.

“Only one structure had been erected and was demolished by members of the unit,” he said.

Mofokeng would not comment on Crouch’s suggestion, but said it was incumbent on landowners to secure their properties, especially if invasion was ongoing as was the case in Stockville Valley.

Daily News