Property hijackings have rocked Orange Grove and Upper Hough- ton, with residents placing the blame for the chaos on the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC).
The property grabs have led to riots in the area every night during the past three weeks, by locals claiming they were promised the houses now being rented to foreigners.
About 20 houses in Orange Grove were broken into and the tenants physically evicted.
The group claimed the city’s property company was causing tension in these areas by “allowing” the hijacking of the properties, thereby encouraging xenophobia.
Protesters have been toyi-toying and burning tyres and mattresses in Louis Botha Avenue, on the corner of 12th Street, and have also threatened to target foreign businesses.
It’s alleged that the ANC is behind the protests. The party has acknowledged that its community members were involved but said the “new” tenants should now be regularized and should pay for services.
“Many foreigners were illegally staying in the JPC properties. Our stand is that we do encourage illegal evictions, but now that locals are there, the JPC should enter into lease agreements,” said ANC Joburg spokesperson Jolidee Matongo.
The JPC, since 2014, has purchased about 80 properties close to the Rea Vaya bus route to be redeveloped into clinics, lower-cost housing, offices and retail spaces.
However, construction of the bus route running from Parktown to Alexandra has been delayed for over a year because of local Alexandrians claiming the jobs were given to outsiders and that the company had not met the 30% local target.
Ward councillor Eleanor Huggett said she believes the aim is to make the area ungovernable.
The JPC was, in the meanwhile, supposed to have signed lease agreements at a nominal rent with the former property owners, or to find temporary tenants and/or to provide security, she said.
The JPC had failed to do so, and, instead, some of the houses were invaded and/or the tenants were privately paying rent to JPC officials.
“Some had legitimate lease agreements,” she said.
Although the illegal evictions started on a small scale last year, they escalated during the past three weeks. Huggett said she had been threatened and intimidated at community meetings.
“I do not have the powers to allocate housing,” she said.
Upper Houghton residents claim that four heritage houses have slid into neglect since the JPC bought them at a total cost of R20million.
André Marais of the Upper Houghton Residents’ Association heritage portfolio said there had been a “gradual decay and lack of ownership”.
“Through the inability of the JPC to manage the properties it owns, a squatter situation is developing opposite St John’s College.
“The huge- ly frustrating issue is that these are properties the city should never have owned, as they were bought with taxpayers’ money. Now the JPC is not able to look after them, and this is seriously eroding the fabric of an area which is an important education and heritage corridor,” said Marais.
An Orange Grove resident, who declined to be named because she had been threatened, said: “I pay rates and utilities, but these criminals who broke into these houses don’t pay any. The JPC is rewarding lawlessness by allowing people who broke into houses to continue staying there.
“These criminals cannot come here and intimidate people who pay simply because they are white. I will not, as a property owner, stand for lawlessness which is simply based on a race card.”
The Joburg metro police department has tried to help stop the illegal evictions, but the Norwood police said their hands were tied because the JPC had not laid charges or opened a case against those illegally occupying and hijacking the houses.
The City of Joburg said it had assured residents of Orange Grove it was aware of the problems they had raised and was dealing with them.
City spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said the city was dealing with the matter. He expressed concern that Huggett was being lambasted by residents.
“There seems to be a perception that the ward councillor has administrative power to allocate houses, award leases and procure security services.”
He said ward councillors were an interface between the community and the municipality and had no such powers.
Modingoane said regular meetings were being held with various concerned people to come up with a resolution to the challenges raised by residents in the area and to develop a plan to improve service delivery in Orange Grove.
“While communities have a right to engage in protests to express their dissatisfaction, this must be done in a lawful manner without infringing on other people’s rights,” he added.
The JPC, in correspondence with residents, said it had met with the Norwood police station commander, the JMPD and the ward councillor.
The property company said it had entered into leases with three tenants out of four houses in Upper Houghton.