The KwaZulu-Natal government has committed to ramping up efforts to actively address the issue of hijacked buildings.
In the wake of the deadly fire in the Johannesburg Central Business District on Thursday, Public Works and Human Settlements MEC Sipho 'KK' Nkosi, said they have identified a number of buildings that have been hijacked by criminal elements, including foreign nationals.
Nkosi said issues of government-owned buildings being used for illegal purposes, including drug trafficking, has been one of the sources of concern for the government, lawmakers, and the public.
He said they are aware of buildings that need to be disposed of.
"There are three buildings where security is being paid for, but they cannot be used. We are going to advertise the buildings or lease them out for use," he said.
Nkosi said there are also two notorious buildings in the Durban CBD that have been identified as havens for criminal elements, and together with police and law enforcement, they are working to get those living in the building evicted and the area cleaned up.
Meanwhile, eThekwini Municipality Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said there are buildings along Mahatma Gandhi Road that have been identified, but they are awaiting the courts' decision on what steps to take next.
Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, Kaunda said they have found that drug lords are using these abandoned buildings as drug dens. He said during a recent raid, they found that moments after people living in the buildings were evacuated, they were able to solicit the services of legal representation.
"Do you think that people who reside in these buildings, who do not even have employment, can afford to pay for Senior Counsel? This tells you that there are drug dealers who are hiding behind these community members who are vulnerable and are being used as shields so that they can continue to sell their drugs," he said.
In eThekwini, 88 problem buildings have been identified.
According to city spokesperson Gugu Sisilana, owners have since regained control of 23 of those buildings.
"Fifteen buildings have been renovated, five demolished, and 25 owners have committed to action," she said.
Sisilana explained that according to the Bad Buildings By-Law, with regard to hijacked buildings, the property owner will be placed on terms and required to evacuate the building, secure and/or seal the property against any unauthorised re-entry by any persons, and to remedy and turn around the problem building.
"Should the owner not comply with the conditions and or orders imposed, a court order will be sought for evacuation, demolition, or remediation by the owner, failing which the eThekwini Municipality will carry out such works and recover the costs from the owner.
“Should the building be deemed a danger to life and property and/or is dilapidated, and the owner fails to comply with the conditions and/or orders imposed, remedial work can be carried out in order to remove the dangerous situation and/or dilapidation and recover the cost from the owner," said Sisilana.