Johannesburg - Two of the City of Joburg's MMCs have launched Operation #ManjeNamhlanje and #OperationRestore, which aim to ensure that buildings in the city centre are safe and meet the safety and health standards of the City.
On Saturday, MMC for public safety Mgcini Tshwaku teamed up with Kenny Kunene, the MMC for transport, for a joint operation called #ManjeNamhlanje and #OperationRestore.
The pair went to the city centre to observe and assess the conditions of dilapidated buildings. The pair vowed to continue their operation and put an end to hijacked and unsafe buildings that have been taken over by unauthorised people, including building hijackers and syndicates.
♦️Watch♦️— COJ People’s MMC Public Safety (@PublicSafetyMMC) September 2, 2023
Operation #ManjeNamhlanje in session MMC for Public Safety Dr. @MTshwaku accompanied by MMC @Kenny_T_Kunene operation #Restore , sealed a hijacked and dilapidated building and closed it. This could cause another #JHBFire pic.twitter.com/7ziCZ2g7Fl
The operation comes after the deaths of 75 people who died when a fire broke out in a hijacked building on Thursday morning. It is reported that this building, which was previously used as a shelter for women and children, housed more than 200 families.
The deaths and the status of the building have sent shockwaves across the globe, with political parties blaming NGOs, while NGOs have defended themselves, saying that they are fighting for human rights.
Individuals who used to stay in these buildings sublets them and from time to time they come to collect rent. There is no payment of rates, no maintenance whatsoever and the building just gets dilapidated, a disaster waiting to happen like #JHBFire something has got to give pic.twitter.com/rqq3kCKjXY— Cmsr Dr Mgcini Tshwaku, PhD (@MTshwaku) September 1, 2023
During the operation, Tshwaku said they were prepared to act against non-compliant buildings.
He stated: "We are closing these unsafe structures under joint operations #ManjeNamhlanje and #OperationRestore. We understand the risks involved, but we refuse to accept accusations of incompetence and failure. The time for action is now. We urge everyone to seek safety in the designated buildings."
Kunene, who was accompanying his colleague, said the first step was to inspect the buildings before effecting evictions and evacuations. He added that the operation will not be stopped by NGOs through litigation, as has been the case in the past.
Today 2nd September we are inspecting the building on cnr Albert and Delver str next to the building that burned. This is a collaboration of #OperationRestore and operation #ManjeNamhlanje. @MMCKennyKunene and @PublicSafetyMMC @MTshwaku are saving lives. NGO or no NGO pic.twitter.com/59254RYLAQ— Kenny Kunene (@Kenny_T_Kunene) September 2, 2023
"Today we are just going in to inspect. We will be back with evictions and evacuations. NGO or no NGO, Seri (Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa) or no Seri. People have died. Now we are going to make sure that we end the loss of life. We are removing people from buildings that EMS has said are unsafe, inhabitable, and a health hazard," Kunene said.
However, Seri, which has been blamed by several political parties in the aftermath of the Joburg building fire, has dismissed suggestions that it was to blame for blocking attempts to demolish buildings in the Joburg CBD.
Political leaders from the DA, Patriotic Alliance (PA), EFF, Congress of the People (COPE), and ActionSA have all pointed the finger at NGOs, saying they have blocked efforts by the city to rid it of dilapidated and hijacked buildings.
Seri researcher and advocacy officer Edward Molopi said the Usindiso Shelter for Women and Children was operating as a shelter for abused women and children until it was neglected by the City of Joburg, resulting in it falling into disrepair and eventually being hijacked.
"The conditions of the shelters and transitional housing need to be urgently improved, and people living in them need access to basic services.
"Seri has never litigated against the City of Joburg in relation to this building; our only involvement in the building related to the temporary placement of two of our clients by the City of Joburg, following their displacement by a fire in September 2014.
"Seri has consistently tried to engage the City to improve conditions in its shelters, but to no avail."
Molopi said the organisation would continue to fight for the poor and would defend illegal evictions that forced dwellers to be removed from buildings without alternative accommodation being provided.
"Seri urges the City to take this unfortunate event as a wake-up call to proactively improve the conditions of the buildings it owns and manages, as well as other abandoned buildings, in order to prevent future loss of life," said Molopi.
Regarding evictions, Molopi said that if the intention was to demolish the building or evict the occupants, the City had a constitutional responsibility to ensure they had alternative accommodation.
"There is a process that needs to be followed when evicting people. If the state says there is a building that is a safety hazard, make sure people have alternative accommodation to go to," he said.