Residents from Ext.13 Lenasia protest at the site of an illegally built house after it was demolished by a bulldozer.091112. Picture: Chris Collingridge 204

Johannesburg - The South African Human Rights Commission has questioned the Gauteng housing department’s bona fides after demolitions in Lenasia continued this week.

It has also accused Housing MEC Ntombi Mekgwe of ignoring efforts to find a solution to the illegally built houses.

This follows the department’s demolition of about 35 partially built and unoccupied houses in Lenasia South extension 4 on Monday.

SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena said the commission had, through its chairman, Lawrence Mushwana, made efforts to meet and talk with Mekgwe, but these had “hit a brick wall”.

“It is indeed unfortunate that in this time in the history of our country, we have a government department that still wants to solve problems through bulldozers and destruction.

“The commission continues to support an approach grounded in dialogue and amicable resolution.

But the commission is acutely aware that as the conduct of the Housing Department continues, this may be made increasingly difficult to achieve.

“To adopt extreme action that disregards these values, therefore, makes a mockery of human rights,” he said.

The department, meanwhile, has said there will be no further demolitions in Lenasia or its extensions this week, even though it is adamant that demolitions will soon continue.

Housing Department head Mongesi Mnyani said they would be awaiting the outcome of the decision by the Johannesburg High Court in the application by the commission, which was investigating whether the manner of the demolitions violated human rights.

He emphasised that the hearing was not an interdict to stop demolition, as was widely reported.

The department had already attempted mediation in March 2011, he said. However, it failed because the illegal occupiers did not co-operate. Of the 164 illegal occupants, only 11 illegal occupiers responded, and only three were found to have applied to be on the housing waiting list.

Mnyani said the department was preparing for tomorrow’s court action, and was monitoring the situation on the ground.

“While we are prepared to temporarily suspend demolitions until Friday, so too must residents stop building.

In the past, we adhered to court orders to stop, but residents continued building.

“We are adamant that we will continue demolishing illegal unoccupied structures,” he said.

Mnyani, however, expressed satisfaction that a number of affected residents had started coming in to the Housing Department to hand in their names, register and give information,

According to residents, they have lodged an appeal against the court order approving demolitions.

Greater Lenasia Concerned Residents chairman Lazarus Baloyi said papers were lodged on Wednesday.

Housing officials, however, deny receiving any notification of such an appeal.

They did say it probably would not succeed as the time period allowed for the appeal had expired.

The SACP, Cosatu and SA National Civic Organisation have condemned the latest round of demolitions.

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The Star