Pretoria - The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) has criticised this week’s raids, evictions of residents and demolition of property during an operation led by Acting Mayor of Joburg Kenny Kunene.
In an interview with broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, executive director of SERI, Nomzamo Zondo, dismissed the publicised anti-crime operation as political point-scoring.
“It was definitely political point-scoring, but also coupled with unlawful, criminal activity, because in this country, it is unlawful to evict someone from their home without a court order.
‘’Once you start demolishing a building, with people still living in it, you are actually evicting them. That’s a criminal offence of the PIE Act (the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act). It is already unlawful in this country,” said Zondo.
“People who live, even in unlawful occupation, are protected by the Constitution and by the PIE Act.”
Joburg Transport MMC Kunene was acting mayor of Joburg on Sunday and Monday, while the newly-elected executive mayor of Joburg, Kabelo Gwamanda, was away on government business for 48 hours.
On Monday, Kunene said he was leading interventions by the city to regain control over several hijacked buildings that are unsafe for habitation and are “stealing” utilities like electricity.
Kunene said the City of Joburg was also concerned that criminals often used the hijacked buildings as hideouts.
“Once you hijack a building, you have committed a crime. The word ‘hijack’ means you have occupied that building illegally. When you are now being removed, you want to use the law to say there is a process of removing people,” he said.
“Those buildings have got traps, booby traps inside them. As you are walking, there are drains that you cannot even see. It’s so dark in those buildings.
“When you look at the rats, the rats are so fat all over. These are the types of rats that, when a baby is lying on the bed, they will be eating on the torso of the baby. The situation is not just unsafe but very much unhealthy.”
On Wednesday, SERI said Kunene’s actions were reminiscent of raids led by former mayor Herman Mashaba which were stopped by the apex court.
“In 2021, the Constitutional Court handed down a judgment in a matter involving the City of Johannesburg, the Department of Home Affairs and the South African Police Service, where there had been exact the same thing under the leadership of mayor Mashaba. The court then was clear that when it comes to somebody’s home, that part of the world is sacrosanct. People should feel safe in their homes, and the only way you are entitled to raid and search their homes is if you have a court order, if you have a warrant, or if you are acting in line with the Criminal Procedure Act,” said Zondo.
“We saw that in these raids (led by Kunene), the police were not even there, so they cannot even allege that they suspected some criminal activity and they were trying to stop it, and could not do that without first approaching a magistrate to get a warrant. So clearly, what we see here is the city raiding people’s homes almost as an act of intimidation.”
She said by his own admission, Kunene told journalists that the people living in the “hijacked” buildings were actually paying rent.