WATCH: Joburg mayor, MEC labelled 'cowards, hypocrites' for skipping Lawley visit
Johannesburg - "Cowards and hypocrites".
This was how Joburg mayor Geoff Makhubo and Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Lebogang Maile were labelled after they reneged on their visit to Lawley, where roughly 500 homes were destroyed on Thursday.
Castro Ngobese, spokesperson for the provincial human settlements department, confirmed to The Star on Sunday that both the mayor and the MEC had been advised to cancel their planned oversight visit.
Hundreds of residents from the Kokotela informal settlement in Lawley, south of Joburg, had gathered on the area's main street after Makhubo and Maile's published alert on Saturday saying they would visit the location following the Thursday demolitions.
The destruction of property and evictions contravened the moratorium on removals promulgated as part of the month-long national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Ngobese said on Sunday that because scores of people had gathered in one place in contravention on the lockdown regulations of staying indoors and not gathering in large crowds, Makhubo and Maile were advised to cancel the visit.
"They were advised not to go anymore because too many people were gathering there. The MEC and mayor were not going to address the community, but rather assess the area after the evictions," Ngobese said.
However, this drew the ire of community members, who accused Makhubo and Maile of being cowards and hypocrites for allegedly violating the lockdown moratorium on evictions, but reneging on their planned visit due to the community allegedly also being in violation.
Burnt tyres, huge rocks and a slew of other objects were used to barricade the main road following the announcement of the visit cancellation as irate community members protested under the watchful eye of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD).
#lockDownSouthAfrica: Residents of Lawley, South of Joburg, are protesting today after roughly 500 homes were destroyed by the City of Joburg on Thursday. The City alleged that the houses were illegally built on its land. @ReporterStar @IOL pic.twitter.com/9n8IW3qA4m— Khaya Sibulele Koko (@khayakoko88) April 19, 2020
"I've been fighting for my rights since 1976 -- I'm tired now. They (the government) can kill me -- I don't care." This woman from Lawley asserts that she is prepared to be shot to fight for her home not to be demolished by the City of Joburg. #day24oflockdown pic.twitter.com/1rnX82RI7X— Khaya Sibulele Koko (@khayakoko88) April 19, 2020
On Saturday evening, an urgent application by some of the residents who had their homes demolished was dismissed by the South Gauteng High Court.
The complainants had gone to court to compel the city to reimburse them for the destruction of their property.
Reacting to the court outcome on Saturday evening, mayor Makhubo accused criminal syndicates of taking advantage of people and "illegally" selling stands to them.
"As the city, we unfortunately cannot celebrate victory in this regard because those who exploit the poor and use their suffering to manipulate and fleece them of their hard-earned monies are yet to face justice.
“The poor have become targets of unscrupulous agent-provocateurs. These are criminal syndicates who sell land they do not own to the poor at prices ranging from R1 500 to R6 000 per stand,” said Makhubo.
He alluded to the long-standing council resolution against evictions and said his administration would honour it, but that the resolution would not deter the city from "acting against on-going land invasions and illegal occupations".
"The City will not allow the coordinated attempts by criminal syndicates to invade land and buildings under the guise that the lockdown regulations allow for this to continue unabated as a consequence of the announcement to discontinue evictions during the lockdown."