Illegal builders in Lenasia have been warned since 2006
Land invaders in Lenasia, Ennerdale and Lawley have been aware since 2006 that their tenure was illegal, yet they continued building their houses.
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, speaking at a media conference yesterday, said a report conducted by George Fivaz was submitted to the Housing Department as early as 2006. This followed disclosure that land was being sold illegally in Lenasia, Ennerdale and Lawley.
It was found that 678 stands were occupied illegally in Lenasia and 1 000 in Ennerdale and Lawley.
A forensic investigation's results were submitted for consideration in early 2010.
It was found that land was being sold illegally and that documents such as title deeds and deeds of sale were fraudulent. "Subsequently, there were numerous interventions, where residents had the opportunity to either move out, or co-operate with the department by assisting to uncover the fraud and to submit papers proving they were entitled to be on the land, but never did," said Mokonyane.
"We exhausted the legal process, and that is why it took so long for us to act. We wanted to ensure that everything was done legally and that the illegal occupants had time to move out," she said.
In the meantime, residents continued building, despite being warned not to. The figures are rising on a monthly basis as construction continues, despite action by the department to make it stop.
The invaders built proper houses and connected their services to the existing water and electricity infrastructure that was being paid for by their neighbours. Their services were regularly cut off but were reconnected illegally.
Ten cases were investigated by the Hawks, seven suspects were arrested - five are on trial - and two cases were withdrawn pending further investigations.
The invasions, said the premier, had been by people who have means and are not poor.
"They are therefore depriving poor people who have been waiting for homes for years. They have money to buy the land and build big houses in some cases. They obtained loans from banks to build on land earmarked for the poor. Therefore, we are acting on behalf of the poor," she said, adding that people in this income group had other housing opportunities.
The court order confirmed the province's position that it would not tolerate land invasions from any sector of society, regardless of the economic status of the people.
"We advise communities to take a lesson from this and be aware there are fraudsters posing as department agents and selling land at cheap prices," Mokonyane said.
The department is spending between R200 and R8 000 a month for every illegally acquired stand, excluding illegal connections for water and electricity amounting to R300 000 a year - money that could be spent on housing for the poor, she added.
Several groups have come out in support of the Lenasia residents.
The ANC Women's League condemned the flattening of houses, "in the strongest possible terms. This destruction of people's homes cannot be justified in a humane society," said ANCWL president Angie Motshekga.
The league said it believed that despite the legal processes undertaken, a more humane solution needed to be found.
Reducing people's homes to rubble and leaving families homeless was cruel, said Motshekga.
The IFP in Gauteng has joined other parties in calling for an end to the demolition of houses in Lenasia.
"The party believes that the situation can be better resolved without any further destruction of homes," said the IFP caucus leader in Gauteng, Bonginkosi Dlamini.
Spokesman Isaac Mangena said the Johannesburg High Court granted the commission's application, and suspended the demolitions for at least 24 hours.
The Gauteng Department of Local Government and Housing began destroying houses on Thursday and Friday as the land they had been built on was meant for government housing. About 50 houses had been destroyed so far and another 113 were yet to be demolished. Fraudsters had apparently sold plots of the land, giving buyers forged deeds of sale with the department's logo.