“We have nowhere to go,” says occupier of Johannesburg

Rosina Mazibuko, 74, says she has lived in a one-room Wendy house for 20 years in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, on property shared with 23 other households facing eviction. Photo: Masego Mafata

  • A group of 24 households is at risk of being evicted from Rosettenville, Johannesburg.
  • Many occupants claim to have lived on the property for 20 years.
  • When the current owners bought the property, the occupants were forcibly evicted in 2017. They fought the case and were allowed to return three days later.
  • The city of Johannesburg has been asked to provide a report on the provision of emergency housing to families if eviction is granted.
  • The case is pending before the High Court of South Gauteng. A hearing date has not yet been set.

“We keep fighting for this place because we have nowhere to go. If the government did something to help us find housing, that would be another story, ”says Thembinkosi Sigulugulu.

Sigulugulu lives in one of five neighboring plots in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, with 23 other households. A request to evict the owners is currently pending in the South Gauteng High Court.

“The owners allege that their properties have been misappropriated and that they have no control over their properties. They are also awaiting the outcome of the deportation request, ”said Nthatisi Modingoane, spokesperson for the city of Johannesburg.

The occupants requested the help of the Center for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), to fight against their eviction.

In a January 29, 2021 press release, CALS acknowledged the “competing rights and interests” of owners and occupants. He said that while it was important for homeowners to use and access their properties, the rights of occupants must also be protected.

Sigulugulu, who has lived on the property for almost 15 years, said they only learned who the owners were when they were first forcibly evicted in 2017. They fought the illegal eviction and were allowed to return.

“This place was vandalized and our clothes were left on the streets for three days,” he said. Sigulugulu lives with his partner and children.

Currently, the occupants do not pay rent. However, before the current owners bought the property a few years ago, residents told GroundUp they were paying rent to the previous owner.

Many of the occupants we spoke to said they did not have full-time jobs.

Rosina Mazibuko, 74, said she has lived on the property for more than 20 years. She said she used to pay R500 for a one-room Wendy house.

“I was paying R750 in rent until I lost my job. The previous owner is gone, so we didn’t know who to pay the rent to, ”said Lungile Baduza, a resident.

City Councilor Michael Crichton said homeowners who abandon properties like these are common in Rosettenville. “These properties are often abandoned and poorly maintained,” said Crichton.

Lawyer Noa Kinstler, representing the current owners, Simon and Irene Okoye, told GroundUp that they purchased the properties on September 28, 2016.

“For five years, they were unable to take possession of the properties that were occupied by illegal occupants. An eviction request has been pending for many months pending action by city council, ”Kinstler said.

“In the meantime, the properties have racked up tariffs and utility accounts to the tune of over R 2 million. Although our clients are told that there are many destitute and needy occupants, it is not the responsibility of our clients to provide them with land and housing.

“The City has a legal obligation to develop alternative land for eligible occupants and other non-eligible occupants to vacate the properties,” Kinstler said.

Some occupants have erected informal structures on Rosettenville properties. Photo: Masego Mafata

Residents say water and electricity cuts are frequent and properties are run down.

On May 26, the City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Water cut off the water supply to the properties because the account is overdue. According to the City, the amount owed by the owner is R1,355,491.

“We went to the municipality and asked for separate water accounts and electricity meters so that we could pay for the services. We are still waiting, ”said Sigulugulu.

While occupiers said there was no warning before the water was shut off, the city claimed it issued a warning on March 29. The water was shut off for nearly two weeks before CALS stepped in and approached the court to reconnect the water.

In its arguments, CALS argued that the residents are “mere occupants of the properties” and that the overdue account is out of their control. The South Gauteng High Court then ordered the city and Johannesburg Water to reconnect the water on June 4. The court also ruled that the water could no longer be shut off, pending the outcome of the eviction request.

While the eviction request is still pending, “the occupants are currently in possession of the property in the meantime,” CALS’s Nomakhosi Masiye-Moyo said.

“The city of Johannesburg has not yet allocated alternative housing to residents. A mutual agreement order was granted, requiring the City to file its report on emergency temporary accommodation for the occupants. The City filed its report on May 17, 2021 and the case is currently awaiting hearing, ”said Masiye-Moyo.

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