Johannesburg – A crackdown on hijacked buildings has led to the arrest of 23 people, including a Johannesburg councillor.
This was confirmed by Joburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda, who said he was disappointed in the councillor who was entangled in criminal activities.
On Wednesday, following yet another inspection of hijacked buildings in the city, Gwamanda and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) pounced on illegal occupiers of a municipal property.
Gwamanda's spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, said the municipality bought the building for R40 million in 2019 to use as a pound for the JMPD. However, the building has been occupied by a group that started construction work.
The raid comes just days after the Marshalltown building was destroyed by last week's blaze, in which 77 people died.
This week, mayoral committee member (MMC) for Transport Kenny Kunene and Public Safety MMC Dr Mgcini Tshwaku hinted that buildings in the city centre were hijacked with the involvement of senior political and business leaders in the city.
Kunene and Tshwaku accompanied members of the JMPD and SAPS into a well-known abandoned building in the CBD.
Twenty people were arrested at a vacant property in Johannesburg’s industrial west on Wednesday.
During an inspection on Wednesday morning, city officials found construction workers putting up face-brick walls on the premises.
The officials, including the executive mayor and city manager, conducted a walkabout of the premises.
Among the 20 people arrested were business owners who work in the area.
According to Ndamase, the hijacked building was earmarked as alternative accommodation for destitute residents.
Ndamase said authorities arrested 23 people and were investigating the alleged involvement of an SAPS officer.
The mayor said he was disappointed that the operation resulted in the arrest of a councillor who, at the time, could not be named as he had yet to appear in court.
“Today's operation has resulted in the arrest of 23 suspects, among them a councillor of the city. The suspects face charges of malicious damage to property and city infrastructure, theft, and vandalism,” he said.
The Public Safety MMC said he was happy that the sting operation resulted in the arrest of high-profile people involved in the syndicate.
“We had a very successful sting operation. We are very happy that we found high-profile people, and this shows that this thing of hijacking buildings, land, and municipal property also involves high-profile people,” he said.