421 The shacks in an open veld near Orlando East in Soweto where a woman is said to be collecting rent from dwellers and if they don't pay she destroys their shacks. 100612 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

People masquerading as landlords are collecting rent from more than 100 unsuspecting Soweto families who are unaware they are paying for living illegally on council-owned land.

The custodian of the City of Joburg’s assets, Joburg Property Company (JPC), said it was seeking legal advice on how to “clear” the land of the illegal occupants - which would leave more than 100 poor families homeless.

One of these areas is on the southern margin of Orlando East, where people are paying between R100 and R150 a month for the portion of land on which they have erected shacks.

Along the outskirts there are a number of stands, some enclosed, with a minimum of 12 back-to-back shacks, “owned” by different individuals collecting rental each month. This means the supposed landowner could collect about R3 000 each month without having to lift a finger in terms of providing basic services like water, electricity or waste collection.

Collen Jezile, 48, has lived in one of the shacks for the past five years and has been paying his R150 rent to “Monti “, whom he believed was the “owner”. He said the landlord’s wife had taken over since her husband’s death and was collecting rent for 23 shacks. Jezile complained of the conditions they were forced to live in and the horrific treatment they received from their “landlords”. One pit toilet is shared by at least 40 people and there is no running water or electricity.

The shacks, which are situated on a stand with no fence, share space with an illegal dumping site with heaps of stinking trash all over the place.

“This is a very bad place for one to call home, but we don’t have a choice. There are about 21 shacks in this yard, and all the landlord cares about is her rental and less about services like water,” Jezile said.

Consequences are not pleasant for those who fail to keep up with their rental.

Residents pointed to one shack which had part of its roof missing. They said its owner worked outside of Joburg and didn’t pay his May rental. Their “landlord” came with some men and ordered them to remove the roof.

Nelson Mathonsi, 33, said he had had his roof taken off at least six times since last year. “My roof was removed again last week because I’m a carpenter and had not been able to get any job so I could not pay. My landlord, Lindiwe, came in with her people and ordered them to remove my roof even though I had explained my challenges to her.

“I’m not too sure if she owns this place, but she has no mercy when she wants her money. I have since fixed my roof, but she could come back at any time, and this time I will definitely be evicted and have my whole shack demolished.”

An owner in a neighbouring plot, Bongani Makuwa, said the land used to be a storage site for his family’s construction company.

“Workers started building shacks on site and paid rent to us and now we have 12 shacks. We have since built a proper toilet with a flushing system, and installed running water, but now the challenge is electricity,” he said.

While Makuwa could be convinced that he was doing better for his tenants, JPC and local ward councillor Sechaba Khumalo said the land had been illegally-occupied and was not zoned for residential occupation.

Khumalo said the JPC had been alerted to the illegal occupation and had “promised to do something” for the illegal occupants.

This was denied by JPC spokesman Brian Mahlangu, who said it was “impossible” that his organisation could have promised someone illegally occupying council land “something”.

“The ultimate in this case is that the illegally-occupied land should be cleared, meaning people must leave,” he said.

“The challenge now is when do we get a court order to clear the land of illegal occupants and who do we serve notice on?”

Back in the illegally-occupied territories, self-made landlords continue to live off the rent from unwary “tenants”… who continue to live in abhorrent conditions. - The Star