The illegal occupation of more than 400 RDP housing units in Lakeside, near Orange Farm in the City of Johannesburg’s Region G – which left the properties’ rightful owners out in the cold for over 13 years – has finally come to an end.
The City will from this week begin to “systematically relocate” the illegal occupants of the disputed properties to a new housing development in Savannah Park and allow the legal owners to reclaim their properties.
The breakthrough was announced by Member of the Mayoral Committee for Housing Councillor Dan Bovu during a public meeting in the area on Sunday. This followed an independent investigation into the status of people occupying properties in Lakeside. The investigators also found that of the 4 500 occupying these houses, 419 were doing so illegally.
The investigation also revealed three categories of illegal occupants:
- Those who said they were renting the properties;
- Those who claimed they had been allocated the houses by “someone”; and
- Those who said they moved in shortly after the building of the houses was completed in 2003.
MMC Bovu, who has for the past five years been working with the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements to find a sustainable solution to the problem, told the meeting that the “systematic relocation” of the illegal occupants would be carried out in consultation with the title holders, some of whom might prefer a new RDP house to one that had been illegally occupied.
“There won’t be wholesale evictions,” Cllr Bovu said as he appealed to title deeds holders to be patient while the process unfolded.
“We are mindful of the pain and confusion that this has caused and are determined to resolve them,” the MMC said.
“In instances where there are no disputes about title deeds, the legal process of transferring the housing unit to its rightful owner will be put into effect immediately.”
The bitter and protracted 13-year standoff between the illegal occupants and the title deeds holders has, in some cases, resulted in litigation, violence and death threats. The breakthrough was met with relief and delight by the rightful owners.
“Finally, there is light at the end of the tunnel," said 53-year-old Christina Sihlangu. "I'm hopeful that, come winter this year, my family and I will finally be living in our brick-walled home. I'm so happy and relieved."
Rosemary Mahlatsi was still seething with anger on Sunday despite the breakthrough in the impasse.
“I’ve been living in a two-roomed shack with my four children all these years while someone was occupying my house,” she said.
Compounding the problem was the presence of foreign nationals who claimed they were entitled to RDP houses as they had been living in South Africa for many years.
MMC Bovu pleaded with the crowd not to be xenophobic, saying the onus was on the foreigners to produce valid documentation to that effect.
He appealed to the aggrieved owners not to take the law into their hands and called on those occupying the houses illegally to cooperate.
“Ours is a government that cares. All we want is to ensure we provide everyone with proper, decent and sustainable housing in a proper and legal manner,” he said.