Police say they have broken the back of a major syndicate that ran a multimillion-rand scam involving low-cost housing in Gauteng.
They pounced on Thursday and arrested two women who they believe sold title deeds for RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses for R150 each. This brings the number of people arrested in connection with the scam to five.
In addition, police are expected to issue warrants of arrests for 34 other people believed to be involved in what has become the biggest housing scandal in Gauteng.
Those being sought are believed to include well-known community leaders and officials in the Gauteng Department of Housing.
On Thursday, police confiscated housing application forms and title deeds valued at an estimated R100 000 from the private homes of two suspects.
The Serious Economic Offences Unit swooped on the houses of the suspects in Diepkloof, Soweto, and Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg, early on Thursday morning, arresting them for fraud and theft.
The two allegedly received money and sold title deeds for RDP houses in the Orange Farm area.
People who paid them money allegedly believed they were paying money over to bona fide Housing Department officials.
The suspects, Vivian Mngomezulu, 61, and Zodwa Mthuli, 41, appeared in the Vereeniging magistrate's court and were each granted bail of R1 000.
Gauteng Housing MEC Paul Mashatile last week announced the details of a 10-month investigation into fraud and corruption in 20 projects in the low-cost-housing sector.
The investigation, headed by former police commissioner George Fivaz, discovered that bribes were paid to bump people up on the housing waiting list, and developers received subsidy payments for houses that were never built.
On Thursday morning, the police found Mngomezulu sitting with some neighbours at her Diepkloof home. In the house, they found housing application forms and title deeds.
Some of her neighbours celebrated her arrest. They said she had tried to get them to pay R250 for a house, followed by another amount of R2 500 for unspecified purposes.
Onlooker Sophie Gumbi, 61, said: "I knew RDP houses are supposed to be free, so I refused to pay. I am so happy she has been arrested. I wish she can rot in jail. There are many people who are homeless because they could not afford the R2 500 bribes.
"There are many others who did not apply for housing but who now live in the RDP houses because they were prepared to pay the bribes."
Mngomezulu waved to curious onlookers as she was taken away.
"She is waving like a celebrity; as if she is Winnie Mandela," said one onlooker.
Police said the investigation was probing 20 development projects throughout Gauteng, involving cases of fraud, theft and corruption valued at about R120-million.
Of the five arrested, four are community leaders and one is a housing official.
Gauteng housing spokesperson Delca Maluleke said they believed the community leaders worked in cahoots with housing developers who allegedly swindled millions of rands that should have been spent on the poor.
"We have already applied for 34 more warrants of arrest, but they are being processed slowly. We should have effected more arrests, but once those 34 are approved, they will be executed immediately," Maluleke said.
Investigating officer Superintendent Johnny Smith issued a dire warning to unscrupulous housing developers, saying: "We are coming for them." - Political Correspondent