Johannesburg - The Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday sent a strong message to city building hijackers when it handed down stiff sentences to two men convicted of the scourge.
The hijackers were found guilty of “greedily” evicting the poor from a government-subsidised block of flats.
The building was later illegally sold to an unsuspecting investor.
Between August 2006 and November 2007, former property manager Sinethemba Mkhumbuzi and his co-accused, disbarred attorney Kenneth Ntila, hijacked Angus Mansions from its legal occupants and sold it to the Trust for Urban Housing Finance for R3million. They were respectively sentenced to eight and 15 years’ imprisonment.
Ntila was a practising attorney when the two committed the crime. He was removed from the roll of attorneys in 2014 and had been running a consultancy business.
Mkhumbuzi was spared the maximum sentence as he had been in detention since his arrest in 2009 and had another fraud case pending.
He was sentenced to four years for this matter last year.
Of his eight-year sentence, half was suspended.
Magistrate Vincent Ratshibvumo was scathing in his sentencing, saying the two had “greedily” and “selfishly” exploited the poor in their quest to accumulate wealth.
“This was a crime committed out of greed, out of selfishness,” he said. “The crime they are convicted of is not only serious because of the value or amount involved, but the persons who were victimised. The amount in the fraud is over R3m. From the evidence that I have, it appears the two were able to pocket over R1m.
“As was observed by the probation officer, the two were gainfully employed. That was not enough for them to say ‘let’s leave the poor to stay in the premises’."
“From the evidence I have, the occupants of Angus Mansions, who also happen to be the owners, are owners on the virtue of being subsidised by the department of (human settlements). For them to be subsidised, they had to be earning very little.”
Directors and board members of the building were either owners or occupants “who happened to be illiterate or not so well educated”.
“With little education, the directors were not able to keep up with the necessary bookkeeping.”
Ntila and Mkhumbuzi, he said, saw a loophole despite coming from previously disadvantaged and poor backgrounds.
“All that was in their minds was how they could enrich themselves to get richer. And unfortunately, that meant the very poor would get poorer and be left with nothing they could call home,” Ratshibvumo said.
As a result of the greed, he added, “the residents of Angus Mansions, for more than one night, found themselves out in the cold after being evicted”.
It was during these evictions that one person died, he said.
“This crime was committed by a group of persons in furtherance of a common purpose. A number of people were involved in the commission of the fraud.”
Ntila indicated his intention to file for an appeal.
Both the National Prosecuting Authority and the City of Joburg welcomed the sentence.
The City of Joburg recently made several arrests linked to the hijacking of buildings.
The council said it had conducted an audit of 500 bad buildings.
More than 130 of these were confirmed hijacked.