Hundreds evicted from Jo'burg office building

Eighteen-year-old Thomas Khosasi ran up 14 flights of stairs to find his blind sister, Theresa, who had been caught up in the mass eviction of a block of flats in Bree Street, central Johannesburg, on Thursday.

He was terrified that as about 700 people were evicted from Bree Chambers, pronounced unsafe by the Johannesburg City Council, his sister would get lost and be unable to find her way out.

By 1.20pm, about 600 “Red Ants”—the nickname for the men in red overalls contracted by the municipality to conduct evictions—had worked their way to the eighth floor of the 16-storey former office block, which had been illegally occupied.

Khosasi, a vendor by profession, had been living with three people in one tiny room for the past three months.

Once reunited, he and his sister said they were “desperate, confused and stranded”.

“We don’t know where to go,” said Theresa, as she strapped a one-year-old baby girl to her back.

Roopa Singh, a municipal spokesperson, said between 500 and 700 people were evicted.

She added that others may have moved out before the eviction.

Hundreds of people stood along Bree Street and looked up at their former flats.

The eviction took place without serious violence, but one municipal employee was hit on the arm by a brick thrown from above.

On the higher floors, residents hung out their windows, shouting loudly across the street.

Democratic Alliance councillor Daniel Mohlatlole said negotiations with the residents had been going on for two years.

“There is nothing more we can do now,” he said. “These people must look for another place. We want people to be safe.”

The eviction is the result of a high court order due to serious by-law contraventions.

“The 16-storey building is an office block which has been invaded and illegally converted into residential accommodation,” Singh said.
“The conditions that exist within the building pose serious threats to the health and safety of the occupants.”

Inside the building, mattresses, bags and other belongings blocked the long, narrow corridors and litter lay strewn everywhere.—Sapa

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