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Thursday Feb 07, 2013

Fight with property hijackers ends in death

One man's battle to evict building hijackers from a Hillbrow building had a bloody ending, with suspected hijackers stabbing him to death with a knife.

The trustee of the Learn and Earn Trust, an NGO that owns the old Florence Nightingale Hospital in Hillbrow, had been battling for years to restore the building to order, but Siphiwe Jeffrey Nzuza in return was thrown in jail for two-and-a-half years after being accused of hijacking by the illegal tenants before he was finally killed on Saturday. He was stabbed several times while walking in Braamfontein.

According to a Gauteng Hawks team which specialises in building hijacking cases, three suspects were arrested at the scene. It is believed they had followed Nzuza from the Hillbrow building.

The old building was donated to the trust by Afrox in 1992 after the hospital closed down.

The trust was formed to promote business entrepreneurship, enhance numeracy and literacy, prison rehabilitation programmes and for transitional housing.

The Department of Local Government and Housing was brought on board to subsidise the transitional housing.

The trail of paperwork shows that Afrox gave R1 million to the trust when it handed over the building. A trustee then allegedly embezzled R600 000, together with a portion of the tenants' rent.

In 2002, the first cracks appeared in the form of mismanagement of the building, slow progress in upgrading the building and failure to set up proper procedures.

A housing company, Vusani Amadolobha, was appointed by the trustees, but a few years later, tenants who had already hijacked the building threw them out.

Many legal disputes followed between trustees, with many resigning and going missing, while the tenants entrenched themselves further in the building. They formed a committee and were collecting R150 a month to run and keep the building clean.

The Housing Department had, in the interim, walked away from the project.

Nzuza was still trying to salvage the trust, but was arrested on December 21, 2010 on allegations that he was trying to hijack the building. He was denied bail until July 10 last year, when he was acquitted.

Nzuza appealed to The Star for assistance shortly after he was released. He said a new group of people were collecting rent.

He said tenants were refusing to comply with requests to leave, pay rent and comply with by-laws. The arrears owing on services totalled R4m.

With tenants refusing to pay rent, Nzuza started evicting them, causing huge tension and anger in the building.

Region F spokesman Shaun O'Shea confirmed that an agreement had been reached between tenants and the trust and that the building would start paying off its arrears and adhering to by-laws.

How the law dealt with the crime

  • There are an estimated 22 000 buildings in the Joburg inner city, and more than 1 000 are in the hands of slumlords.

  • The highest sentence that has been handed to a building hijacker was 10 years in prison.

  • The City of Joburg has established a task team made up of police officers, prosecutors and officials from the SA Revenue Service to reclaim the buildings from hijackers, but has admitted that legal procedures take too long.

  • The task team has more than 1 500 buildings on its radar.

  • Since August, 36 buildings have been handed back to their legitimate owners.

  • Since 2008, more than 2 000 hijacked buildings have been given back to their rightful owners.

    Source: Dennis Williams Realtors

    The Star


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