Johannesburg - The Germiston CBD is the latest in Gauteng to be targeted by building hijackers after a group of tenants illegally occupied more than 10 flats and houses on Tuesday.
They claim the owner's failure to settle a R60 million municipal debt as their reason for occupying the residential properties.
The group of close to 100 forced their way into two unoccupied buildings in Selkirk and Kinross streets on Tuesday morning.
Security officers initially physically tried to block the gates but later gave up as the crowd, which included children and drunk adults, was getting rowdy and forceful.
By late afternoon, most of the rooms in both buildings, which have no electricity, had been occupied.
The buildings belong to 42 Power Street Properties, which owns more than 30 properties in the city. The owner, José Manuel Moneiro, lives overseas.
A property and business search conducted by The Star showed that he was a director of 29 companies and owned 10 properties, valued at R996000 at the time of purchase. He bought them in the early 1990s.
Ekurhuleni metro spokesperson Themba Gadebe said although they had been investigating the hijacking of buildings, they were not aware of this particular case.
“The city is busy with a law enforcement strategy as emphasised by a mayoral #Siyaqhuba interventions campaign, and officials from the affected department will be sent out to obtain the necessary information for intervention,” said Gadebe.
He could not confirm whether Moneiro owed the council millions in rates as claimed by the illegal occupants.
The group occupied the two buildings at night, and Moneiro’s office manager was found with a gunshot wound in his leg in his car, which was parked outside the company’s offices in Victoria Street.
Germiston police spokesperson Captain Manaka George Rathulu said police found the man bleeding and called for an ambulance.
“We don’t know if the shooting is related to the hijacking of the building which occurred on the same day, but investigations are under way,” Rathulu said.
This is the latest criminal attack on property in Gauteng. Similar cases were reported in Joburg's inner city as well as the suburbs of Windsor East and Rosettenville.
Most of these buildings have been abandoned by their rightful owners and taken over by slumlords. In July, 98 undocumented migrants were arrested during a crackdown in Doornfontein.
The group involved in the Germiston incident have been occupying buildings located south of the CBD for many years. They were renting directly from Moneiro, but claimed that the City of Ekurhuleni had told them three years ago to refrain from doing so because Moneiro had a big municipal debt.
They claim they were instructed to pay the rent directly to the metro in order to settle the bill.
“Since we started paying to the municipality, we have been getting threats from the owners’ bouncers. They would break our doors and demand we give them the rent or face eviction,” said Boitumelo Seitlhamo, the leader of the group.
Seitlhamo admitted that most of the people have since taken over several buildings owned by Moneiro and that attempts to seek intervention from the municipality had failed. Other people who were not tenants had also taken advantage of the situation by invading empty buildings.
Celeste Botha, who manages the buildings for Moneiro, feared that the company’s nine vacant properties would also be invaded.
She said the leader of the “syndicate” was known to them and that last year they won court evictions against her and others. She said the alleged ringleader was collecting rent from tenants who she had illegally put into the buildings.
Botha said Tuesday’s invasion began around 4am. “We realised that it was the people who were evicted from previous properties.
"When the police arrived they tried to calm the situation, but were not successful. They then instructed us to let these people in and obtain a court order to evict them. Can someone please explain how is this possible?
"How can we allow people who have no respect for the law or the courts to do as they please?”
Seitlhamo, however, claimed that the council had given them the right not to pay Moneiro.
She showed The Star a letter from the council’s credit control officer, MD Nkosi, stating that in terms of the Municipal Property Rates Act, she should not pay the rent to the rightful owner to recoup his debt to the municipality.