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Monday Nov 19, 2012

Gauteng premier on property demolitions - 'we can't brook lawlessness any more'

The clamour against government intervention in an act of criminality committed by a syndicated network in Lenasia has been deafening. Yet silence on the fraudulent act of both the perpetrator, developer and homeowner is palpable and puzzling.

Illegally built houses in Lenasia Extension 13 are demolished by a bulldozer.

The spotlight has been directed on the government and its law enforcing agencies, whose responsibility is to uphold law and order while protecting and championing the rights of all in a constitutional democracy.

It is undoubtedly a delicate responsibility in a setting where inequalities are glaring and basic human rights are seemingly emphasised over accompanying responsibilities. The balance to be struck, indeed, is delicate.

What the Lenasia illegal land invasion and the subsequent clamour helped to underscore is the existence of inherent contradictions and incongruent expectations that various interests groups exert on democracy.

While many of these groups fervently embrace the notion of law-abiding and orderliness, they are unashamedly quick to condemn law enforcers who seek to restore order where anarchy is nurtured.

And the condemnations in many instances are emotional and based on whether the intervention is justifiably proportionate to the illegal act.

At face value, when considered within the humanistic perspective, there is nothing amiss with such condemnations, yet they are questionable when viewed within the realm of law and its objective application or court judgment.

In a widely reported matter of the illegal land invasion in Lenasia, the government response has been projected as utterly inhumane and outright insensitive. In fact, it has been roundly condemned by many interests groups as uncivil in a modern democracy.

However, in the midst of sound and fury there is little in a way of a sustainable alternative proposal posited by those who assert insensitivity and inhumanity on the government's part.

Instead, they call for the intervention to be halted while anarchy continues to flourish at the expense of law-abiding citizens who are patiently waiting for government-sponsored shelter in a land legally earmarked for such projects.

It is such delicate contradictions in terms of expectations that make the work of government difficult.

As much as the government would like a different solution to the impasse, how does one reconcile the fact that the rights of thousands of qualifying poor people are compromised by the illegal occupation of land in Lenasia?

How does one explain to the law-abiding poor that lawlessness is acceptable when perpetrated by those with resources to illegally buy and challenge court decisions?

Is there a median course that will placate both expectations?

In people's zealousness to portray the government as inhumane, they overlook the fact that its benevolence has been exploited and overstretched.

Since 2006 through the investigation and subsequent findings by the George Fivaz inquiry, government have been engaging with illegal land occupants.

A number of consultative meetings were held with various stakeholders representing the interests of the illegal land occupants.

While attempting to resolve the matter amicably, the government was put under pressure by the Association of Property Owners and People Against Land Invasion, whose assets were affected.

Clearly, the government effort to address the matter was inclusive and transparent, but its goodwill was and continues to be relentlessly abused.

The consultations were protracted and none of the voices screaming now were interested in the resolution of this matter.

As a result, the government was left with no alternative but to seek legal recourse from the courts. In pursuit of a legal solution which is a strong indication of the government's commitment to democracy and rule of law, we followed this process:

In September 2010, an interim court order prohibiting the Gauteng Local Government and Housing Department from evicting and demolishing the illegal properties was granted.

The applicants were also interdicted from further constructing structures on the properties belonging to the department until a final order was issued.

While the department adhered to the interim order, the applicants continued to erect structures and invade government-owned stands.

The department opened several cases of contempt of court against the illegal occupiers in December 2010.

At least 13 builders were arrested on site for violating the interim court order.

In March last year, the court ordered that the matter be referred for mediation for the illegal occupiers to explain how they acquired the properties. Of the 164 illegal occupants, only 11 responded, and only three were found to be on the department's Demand Database (housing waiting list).

The mediation process broke down as a result. After the failure of mediation, the department approached the court to seek a final order.

On September 29, 2011, the department was granted an order by the Johannesburg High Court.

Briefly, the court order entailed that the applicants vacate the illegally occupied land and remove or demolish the structures within 30 days, failing which the respondent (government) reserved the right to do so.

The order did not compel the department to provide alternative accommodation, given the financial status of the illegal occupants.

It is in the context of these efforts, both legal and consultative, that the intervention of government should be appreciated. What we should applaud here is the commitment of the government to fight corruption and lawlessness in this province.

If we continue to tolerate criminality and blatant disregard for law, the entire country will be thrown into the abyss of anarchy where criminal syndicates call the shots. As proud South Africans it is not what we stand for and it will never be what we would like to bequeath for posterity. It is our responsibility to rid our society of such elements because it is their unsavoury acts that seek to undermine the democracy we cherish.

Nomvula Mokonyane
Gauteng premier
Pretoria News


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