Syndicate suspected behind increasing land grabs across Johannesburg city

The City of Johannesburg suspects that a syndicate is behind land grabs which are increasingly taking place across the city.

Johannesburg MMC for public safety Michael Sun told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that land invasions were taking place in a manner that was not meant to help destitute people who wanted to erect a shack for a place to stay.

“They are not desperate people who are looking for a piece of land for shelter. These are people who come from far. When you tell me that somebody [who] drives a BMW‚ an Audi luxury 4×4 .… they get together to get into a minibus taxi to go and invade land‚ you have to ask where they come from. We need to investigate this. There is a syndicate behind this. People set up a little help desk to say ‘come register come sign‚ make your payment and go claim your land’‚” said Sun.

He was responding to questions about a new settlement called Extension 10 in Orange Farm‚ in southern Johannesburg‚ which appears to be a land grab by community members from across the province.

Sun said the city would continue engaging with communities about their housing needs and explain the disadvantages of land invasions.

He said besides Extension 10‚ there were other land invasions being dealt with by the city in Lenasia‚ Midrand‚ Enerdale‚ Riverly and Eldorado Park.

The matter has also been brought to the attention of the city’s Group Forensic and Investigation Services Unit for urgent attention.

Sun said when land was invaded‚ it made it difficult for the city to install basic services such as water and roads because the settlement was not properly planned.

Karabo Lesego* explained how she got land for free at Extension 10 in August 2017.

Lesego said it started as a rumour in her township in Orange Farm where she lived with her family. She decided to go and investigate the spot where people were getting land. She regarded herself as lucky to find three men responsible for distributing the land.

“When I arrived I found that there were a few shacks that had already been erected. There were still a few people also busy erecting their shacks. I asked how could I also benefit. They said to me they can’t demarcate a site for me without me having a shack. By that time‚ there were people in the area who had already started selling shacks [which can be assembled] immediately‚” Lesego said.

Lesego bought a shack for R2,500 from people who were already selling material to build shacks‚ but there is no concrete floor. The structure only consists of roof and walls.

She then had to borrow money from a family member to get cement in order to put in a concrete floor. There were rumours that without a concrete floor‚ shacks could be stolen at night.

She forked out R900 for material and labour to do the floor. For about a month‚ Lesego could not move into her shack because it did not have windows nor a door.

It was at one of the regular Sunday meetings where she was told‚ along with other newcomers‚ that she must live in the shack and could not keep the land if nobody stayed there. She had to raise money for a door and the windows. “All I wanted was a space for myself as an adult away from my family‚” she said.

The land where the shacks have mushroomed is along the Golden Highway not far from the main taxi rank of Orange Farm. There is no water‚ no electricity‚ sanitation nor roads. The settlement became the centre of attention when one of its residents was kicked by an ANC member outside Luthuli House‚ during a protest at the height of calls for former president Jacob Zuma to step down.

Lesego was among residents who went to Luthuli House to ask for basic services. Fortunately for her‚ she was not in the van that was stopped and attacked by ANC members.

“It was difficult for anyone to say they are not going to the march. It was as if we were compelled to be part of the march by the BLF (Black First Land First). They went door to door to tell us that we have to go there because they are going there to fight for us.”

Sbonelo Zuma‚ who is part of the group distributing the land‚ disputed that the move was led by the BLF. “The BLF came and supported the people. When we started that thing‚ we were not members of the BLF. We were simply community members. The BLF came and supported the people.

“We don’t take over the land but we give people what they deserve. If people want a place to stay and there is land which belongs to them‚ it must be given to the people.”

Zuma claimed that there was a plan to build houses for the people.

“They said that space would belong to the poor people. They said they would build low-cost housing and bonded homes‚ while people are not working. How can we afford bonded houses? We don’t ask where you are from. If you don’t have a place‚ we just give you [one]. Even if you are from another province‚ we don’t care; as long as you want a place‚ we give you a place‚” Zuma said.

Some of the people living in Extension 10 come from Soweto‚ Sebokeng‚ Vosloorus‚ Everton and the Johannesburg inner city. Zuma said there have been discussions to bring basic services to Extension 10.

*Not her real name

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