Eviction nightmare on Main Street

While many Johannesburgers were relaxing over the festive season, the former residents of 238 Main Street in the east of the city spent Christmas under a bridge in the trendy Maboneng precinct.

About 40 people, ranging from bright-eyed toddlers to grey-haired pensioners, became the new residents of Berea Street, under the M2's Sivewright Avenue on-ramp and adjacent to Johannesburg's fashionable Arts on Main complex, on the morning of December 19.

The victims of a building hijacking, they claim they were served with an eviction order by the infamous Red Ants and members of the South African Police Service and forcibly removed from their home, apparently without warning, an opportunity to collect their belongings or any chance to organise alternative accommodation.

"It's unfair for them to just dump us on the street. Some of us have been staying there for a long time [some since 2002] and we paid our rent," Lungisani Langa, the unofficial spokesperson of the group, said.

Wedged between two busy thoroughfares, their new home consists of little more than a few dusty mattresses, tatty bags filled with clothes, a threadbare couch and two paraffin stoves. Chalk-inscribed graffiti on one of the pillars reads: "Homeless – Hopeless."

The rest of their belongings are in their former abode, which is welded shut and boarded up. The elderly say their medication is still in the building and mothers claim their children cannot get to their schoolbooks or uniforms. Two days after Christmas, baby Kwanele Makhaye was nearly born on the street but his mother Maki was rushed to the Hillbrow health precinct.

The residents paid a monthly rent of between R400 and R650 for informal lodgings in the disused "Radiator Centre" warehouse to Mthandeni Makhaya, who claimed to be the building's owner.

Above board
According to the housing deeds, Teyengwa Masawi is the owner of the building, which he bought in August 2009.

"The eviction process has been going on since 2010 when the ownership of the building was transferred," Masawi said.

The process was above board. "Adequate notices were issued to the people staying at the building.


"What was the basis of Mr Mak­haya renting out that building without legal title?"

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals) challenged the eviction order in the South Gauteng High Court but the matter was postponed to the end of January because of "legal inconsistencies in establishing the rightful owner of the building".

Although their current situation is almost untenable, most prefer to stay near to the building to ensure that their possessions are not stolen.

"It's too expensive to stay elsewhere and we need to get our belongings out of that building. We have nothing," Gugu Buthelezi said.

Humanitarian support
The city's department of housing has refused to get involved because of the "several legal elements at play". "The city makes no commitment to addressing the matter until an assessment and analysis is conducted and concluded," it said in a statement.

Other attempts have been made to help the displaced residents. "Members of the Mabo­neng community activated their respective networks to provide humanitarian support in an attempt to improve the evictees' situation," Hayleigh Evans, spokesperson for the precinct developers, Propertuity, said.

The Charities Aid Foundation of South Africa, which is based in Arts on Main, has engaged non-governmental organisations, social workers and legal advisers to assist in finding a solution.

"So far Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church generously responded to a call from Maboneng and came to the eviction site on  January 9 to work on possible short- and long-term solutions," Evans said.

But this help has been interpreted as an attempt to move residents away from the multimillion-rand precinct.

"They've asked us nicely to leave and are helping us find a place, but we can't move to these places," Buthelezi said.

This view is supported by Cals. "There has not been an effort to deal with the affected community in a responsible and sustainable manner," Kathleen Hardy, the Cals attorney handling the case, said.

But Evans said: "If anything, this event reminds everyone of the housing crisis in the country and can hopefully help to make the public aware of the problem that exists not only in the inner city but also all over greater Johannesburg."

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations