Pics: Inside Fattis Mansion - a putrid ruin
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Johannesburg - “There are dead bodies in there.” The five men peer into the stinking sewage water that fills the basement of the once-beautiful building. They use a torch to see in the dingy parking lot that had once been filled with the cars of Joburg’s rich.
The electricity to the building was cut about six years ago and the few lamps that now line the graffiti-covered walls cast an eerie glow. The generator which lights them runs for only a few minutes at a time. The men can’t afford to pay more than the R5 a week they contribute towards its use.
This stinking building is their home. Criminals run into the dark basement, the men say, to hide their nefarious deeds.
This decaying wreck is Fattis Mansions, once a fashionable 12-storey block of flats in the heart of the banking and legal district.
Patricia Noah, mother of comedian Trevor Noah, is a large part of the building’s history. A former flat owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said he sold his two flats in the building to her years ago as he was struggling to get rent from tenants. The building comprises 195 units: 18 shops/garages and 177 flats.
The man said Noah, who was part of the body corporate, offered to buy his flats and another two in Hillbrow. He gladly sold them to her for R100 000 for all four.
“At that price it was a giveaway, but the Joburg CBD had descended,” he said. “She tried her best but the residents sabotaged her. She is a good lady. She succeeded where everyone else failed. I was happy to get out.”
Others weren’t so lucky. A woman, now aged 63, moved in in 1988. Like others interviewed, she doesn't want to be named because of fears of being targeted by criminals.
“It was so beautiful,” she remembers. But slowly the owners abandoned their flats and the building started losing its beauty. The lifts broke down in 2004, and instead of being fixed, residents just walked up the long flights of stairs.
At some point Noah became the administrator in charge of Fattis Mansions.
“People said Patricia was eating the money,” the woman said. “She did nothing and people stopped paying. The electricity was cut in 2010.”
The woman, whose husband is 70, said all their money went into paying for the flat and they couldn't afford to move out. She sees criminals in action every day. “I've seen women being raped. There are dead bodies found at least three times a month. The building is full of criminals.”
Noah was chased out of the building in 2014 through a court order. The people in the building had had enough of her, said the men who spend their days cleaning the courtyard. The Star has seen the court order showing the municipality appointing a new administrator, but he did nothing too, the men said.
His security came in and beat people up to collect money, the woman said. “They pepper-spray people. The levies are R500 a flat, but they take R1 000.”
While Fattis may be decaying, the buildings around it, next to Bank City, show a city being rejuvenated. They have been converted from wrecks into smart homes.
A week after The Star visited the building, the dead body of a man who had been stabbed was found in the parking lot.
Last year, a four-year-old child fell to his death from the rusty, broken metal staircase to the courtyard below.
There are three working taps for the more than 1 000 people who call the building home. They are in fact pipes going to fire extinguishers and cannot be cut off in case of an emergency. Some rooms contain more than 30 people, who sleep side by side on mattresses piled along the floor. No toilets work, so people defecate in a back staircase, or put their waste into plastic bags which they throw into the courtyard. Spaza shops line the passageways and the smell of cooking meat competes with the smell of sewage.
The residents who own their flats went to court and asked for the administrator to be removed. Without lawyers, they sat before a judge and explained their story. They won.
A few days later they were shocked to discover that Noah had put in an urgent application before the high court to appoint trustees to the body corporate “who will take the building forward for the good of all owners and tenants”.
Noah told the court that she wanted to restore the building. She asked the court to order that the tenants in the shops and in the flats pay their rentals/levies into a legally recognised body corporate bank account.
Noah told the court she was a businesswoman who bought flats in the building “which are still registered under Mr O’Connor” and that she had wasted funds while she was a court-appointed administrator.
“In 2007, some of the members of the building led by Messrs Saul Ndlovu and Forbes Ndlovu, asked me to come and save the building.
“I hired cleaners, managing agents, plumbers and electricians to bring law and order, health, peace and harmony.”
She said those owners who could not pay were asked to work in the building to contribute towards their levies.
“I interdicted everyone who would interfere with the management.”
She said that when the Fattis units were sold on auction, she bought them.
“Such peace was interrupted by another court-appointed administrator who was successfully removed. Now the building is left with a gap which, I humbly submit, must be urgently filled to prevent chaos and lawlessness in the building,” Noah said.
The judge, however, dismissed her application, particularly because she had not made her application known to the residents of the building or to the former administrator.
The residents in court were relieved. They want to do it themselves this time. “We want everyone to have a title deed. We want the overcrowding to stop,” the old lady said. “We want it to be beautiful again.”