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​No more shacks allowed in Mshenguville


Residents of Mofolo, Soweto, have vowed not to allow further reinvasions of Mshenguville, a former makeshift golf course-turned-informal settlement that the Johannesburg City Parks & Zoo is planning to transform into a green lung.
 
The residents made the commitment after the last resident of the informal settlement was recently moved to a new location – ending 25 years of illegal occupation of an area in the heart of Soweto initially zoned as a park.
 
Johannesburg City Parks & Zoo’s plan to rehabilitate the area into a green lung is likely to see a substantial increase in property prices around the neighbourhood.
 
Mofolo resident Mike Taukobong, who lives not far from Mshenguville, welcomed the City’s move to rehabilitate the area into a green lung, describing the news as “a breath of fresh air”.
 
“As residents we feel we deserve a green lung. This will not only enhance our neighbourhood’s aesthetics, but it will also boost our property prices and improve air quality. That is why any move to reinvade the land will be opposed,” said Taukobong.
 
This was corroborated by Thulani Nkosi, the City’s Region D Housing Director, who said the biggest challenge facing the City had always been reinvasions.
 
“But no one will ever erect a shack in Mshenguville again. Residents in the streets overlooking the park are guarding it like hawks. If anyone tries to put up a shack, residents normally call the council and threaten to tear down the structure themselves.
 
“I think the residents have had enough and have taken ownership of the surroundings. Residents in other parts of the city should take a leaf from them. The city has finally closed a chapter on Mshenguville process,” said Nkosi.
 
Mshenguville was named after the late former Soweto mayor and leading businessman, Ephraim “Mshengu” Tshabalala, who was behind the move to allow homeless residents to erect shacks on the piece of land.
 
But the area – which is unsuitable for housing development – soon became overcrowded and a health hazard, with raw sewage overflowing all over its narrow alleyways and litter piling up in almost every corner.
 
The first relocations took place in 1989, when hundreds of families were moved to Orange Farm in the south of Johannesburg. The relocations were always fraught with tensions as the area had become a hotbed of protests and resistance.
 
Last year, there were 10 families still living in Mshenguville. They have all since been relocated to new areas such as Lehae, south of the city. Johannesburg City Parks & Zoo has now taken ownership of the area.
 
Whenever people were relocated, a new group would move in and occupy the land. City officials would then have to start from scratch to negotiate with the new group.
 
The main reason the relocation took a quarter of a century was primarily because of the lengthy vetting process, pre-approving residents for RDP housing, identifying appropriate land and building houses to accommodate the families.
 
“The city has a challenge of land. Sometimes land is identified and after tests are conducted, it is found that it is dolomitic, as was the case with parts of Protea South. 
 
Then the process of identifying alternative land starts again. 
 
“Also, during the pre-qualifying stage, you find people are no longer in the R3 500 salary bracket to qualify for subsidised housing and are now earning higher salaries. What often happens is that the people are then referred to the rental section as they can’t afford bonded houses either,” says Nkosi.