Johannesburg - Four years ago, Thulani Sibisi, a Two Oceans Marathon winner and a legend in the running community, bought a house adjacent to the Sisulu family home in Orlando West.
Sibisi, a frail man with stage-three cancer, bought the house for R460 000 with all his pension money.
However, instead of enjoying the fruits of his labour, Sibisi is living in a cramped, rented single room. He can't move into his home because a relative of the previous owner refuses to move. Four eviction orders later, the relative has made it clear: she’s going nowhere and community members have her back.
You’d think even one eviction order should suffice, but the squatter moves back in every time.
Police won’t get involved either. They say they are there to serve the wider community, not one person.
With talks around land expropriation without compensation, Sibisi’s case highlights how the state can’t even secure property rights - the eviction orders are issued but aren’t executable because there’s no “buy in” from the community. It’s an iniquitous situation.
Ted Frazer, marketing manager for Seeff Southern Africa, the agency through which Sibisi bought the house, says the matter has a long and frustrating history that shows “clear failings” of the legal system because the police refused to execute the orders.
Seeff has funded three eviction applications, paid for Sibisi’s accommodation and retained an eviction specialist, Cilna Steyn, to act on his behalf.
“We didn’t list the property - it was a fly-by-night agent who approached our licensee and wanted to do a joint listing on a deceased estate.”
The sale was problematic from the start: Frazer admits there was a “significant margin” because the house was listed at R350 000 and Seeff would split the commission with the other agent.
When Seeff realised how much commission had been charged - R100 000 - they cancelled the licensee’s licence.
“The previous owner’s niece was renting the property. They met Thulani and they knew he was the new owner, but they refused to move. Then we had to go through the legal process. Three years down the line we are still paying. In each case, the police refused to execute the eviction order.
"Then the elections came and it became about losing votes - there was always an excuse.”
“Even the Red Ants have declined involvement because it’s become so volatile. We had in our hands legal documents but the police were flatly refusing to enforce it.”
So far, in terms of man hours, legal costs and rent, Seeff has spent almost R500 000 on the issue.
“We’re not walking away. We laid a criminal charge, but the prosecutor didn’t have the deed of sale at court, so it got thrown out.”
Frazer doesn’t mince his words about state involvement.
“The level of ineptitude is astounding. These guys have been utterly useless. Every single time they find a different excuse. Happily, the ANC finally went to the community leadership. We never envisaged it would take so long. The legal system has dropped the ball.”
On Tuesday, the fourth eviction order was executed and police arrived only to support the sheriff. As soon as she left, they withdrew, leaving Sibisi, Steyn, Housing Ombudsman Themba Mthethwa and four armed security guards with a crowd that grew increasingly menacing.
They threatened to burn the house down, with Sibisi inside. They damaged property while gaining access and helped the squatter and her “tenants” back inside.
“This was the fourth time we tried executing an eviction. It’s insanity. We’re not getting any different result,” Steyn says.
“Wednesday was chaos. The police said they wouldn’t get involved. They didn’t arrest anyone, even though they were standing there. They even watched them move back in. I pleaded with the police to stay to ensure the crowd left.”
The community overpowered the guards overnight and chased them away.
Steyn isn’t done fighting for Sibisi.
“It’s never done - I don’t have a ‘done’ button. I’ll take it to the Constitutional Court if I have to, to force the police to act. There is nothing okay about this. This is a constitutional matter. It’s not civil.
“How can we even talk about expropriation without compensation when these things happen?”
Mthethwa, who has championed Sibisi’s cause since he first joined the office, has helped Sibisi open a case of trespassing, contempt of court and malicious damage to property. But the housing ombudsman isn’t hopeful the police will do anything to help.
“They said they were there simply to protect the sheriff. The moment the police left, the crowd blew whistles and started toyi-toying.
“What about property rights? The right to protect the public when there’s a threat?
“The provincial ANC even called the branch to find out why they were evicting in their ward. Seeff have done what they can. When the Public Order Police were there, residents were scared because they were armed to the teeth. The Orlando police station is a kilometre from the house.”
Sibisi is tired, elderly, sick, has lost all his pension on the house and now just wants his money back. But the squatter must be evicted and the house sold. He’s been told he won’t be welcome in Soweto.
“She’s threatened me, deprived me of my house and damaged my property. I laid a charge against her but they told me it will take time to arrest her, which is crazy. I don’t understand why she wasn’t arrested on Tuesday straight after breaking my gates. I’m very disappointed by the action of the police," Sibisa said.
* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.