Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba. File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/Independent Media
Johannesburg - The City of Joburg has declared war on the mushrooming number of illegal churches, structures and spaza shops, vowing to expedite its legal processes and obtaining demolition orders.

So serious is he to reclaim the city that mayor Herman Mashaba has pledged his own money for equipment to kickstart the first few demolitions.

After visiting Yeoville last week following a spate of complaints about the many illegal churches popping up there, the mayor on Sunday sent in the Joburg metro police officers to remove a pastor’s chairs and equipment.

Mashaba said he was very angry at the destruction and disruption of the lives of law-abiding citizens through illegal actions.

The complaints emanate from a block of flats called North Hills, where a pastor Elijah has converted his flat into a church, illegally tearing down not only internal walls, but an outside wall belonging to the complex, which has heritage value.

He has ignored several stop orders from the council, which has refused him permission to operate a church.

The pastor has also disregarded instructions from the body corporate to stop altering the flat without their permission.

Residents claim he runs church services almost daily into the early hours of the morning. 

Residents in the block claim they are constantly threatened by the pastor, who also allegedly broke the City Power lock on the meter and installed his own.

He also recently obtained a protection order against one of the trustees who complains about his noise and activities.

“We have law-abiding citizens who have invested in their homes, which are being devalued by these illegal activities. We are going to reclaim this city,” Mashaba warned.

He said the city would, within the next few weeks, also re-establish the now-defunct municipal courts and that five prosecutors were being trained.

“I had not understood the extent of this problem in Yeoville. Our communities do not deserve this. There is no rule of law in this country. We have to send a message to people who disregard the law – there is no place for you in Joburg,” he said.

Mashaba said he would be pursuing all those who build illegally.

“If there is no budget, I will pay for the equipment and get the member of the mayoral committee for development planning, Funzele Ngobeni, to personally go and start breaking down the structures."

“After the first few are done, perhaps these criminals will get the message,” he said.

The city would be applying for an interdict against the pastor on April 18 in the high court in Joburg. The mayor urged community members to be present in large numbers to show support.

Furthermore, the city would be seeking a demolition order for the church. Over and above this, criminal charges had already been laid for building without the necessary consent.

Other complaints received by The Star, with some of the writers asking not to be named after alleged threats by the pastors:

In Katherine Street, Sandown, a church is illegally occupying and overloading the zoning rights of a warehouse-type facility, “causing havoc, with services running until 4am in the morning, taking over the roads illegally and littering. Busloads of people are transported in”.

Rob Handfield-Jones sold his Orange Grove property because of an illegal church. “It was howling and shrieking, and when you go to complain you must listen to “It is our constitutional right to worship”, but when you try to explain about your constitutional right to live free of disturbances, you’re on a hiding to nothing. I had the police out there six times, but there is no point in going down that road. I was lucky in that I could afford to move. I feel desperately sorry for the ones who are unable to do so,” he said

Residents in Forest Hill have signed a petition to object to a church. 

Another neighbour on the corner or Gabriel Road and Schuller Street has turned his property into a grocery, a tyre shop, a takeaway, a hairdresser and a church, as well as back-room lodgings. 

One has to be blind not to see that this is illegal. How do the authorities and law enforcers not see this, asked the residents.

In Observatory, residents have a similar problem. Their main issues are the increase in noise, traffic and crime.

The Star