Evictions, business and land reform issues bubble over in Crown Mines
Langlaagte, one of the earliest gold mining regions of Johannesburg, is a divided area. Business owners want to commercialise the region but this means displacing people living in the informal settlement at the heart of the industrial hub.
Two months ago, a group of informal settlers who live in Crown Mines Village as well as another group of people who live in old mining houses in Langlaagte were handed eviction letters. Using informal community organisation Crown Mines Improvement District as a vehicle, business owners have attempted to find a way to develop the area for years.
They say that crime in the area, which they attribute to the informal settlers, has negatively affected business pursuits.
According to the business owners, SAPS has confirmed that people in the settlement are responsible for crime in the area.
A property agent in Langlaagte, Gareth Anstee, disagrees, saying that although the existence of the informal settlement is a contributing factor, there is an excess of traffic in the area.
He said that despite a demand for property in the south of Johannesburg, there was less of an interest in the Crown Mines area.
But fearing the informal settlement’s effect on their businesses, the Crown Mines Improvement District has teamed up with the owner of the property on which the shacks and houses are built to launch two court cases.
The first is to evict people from the informal settlement, Crown Mines Village. The second is to evict people who have moved into the old mining houses in front of the settlement, houses that have been earmarked as heritage sites.
The people living in the mining houses
Florence Mayikiso (54) is standing with a group of women at the boot of a car, registering for food parcels. Taped to the gate of one of the houses in her street is a notice for a community meeting about the court case.
Residents believe they have a right to the land because some have lived there for many years and have nowhere else to go.
“We were here from the beginning. It was forest before there were companies. It’s them who came to us, not us who came to them,” says Mayikiso.
Mayikiso and her husband — a named respondent on the court application — have lived here for 25 years. The mining company her husband used to work for owned the land and provided housing for the family. But the property was sold to a new landowner in 2005.
The families of the mineworkers, as well as other people who have moved into the vacant houses over the years, have no desire to leave. They’ve refused to pay rent, and say that the landowner increased the rent to an amount they cannot afford — over R1 000 a month.
The group of women say that the landlord insulted them, describing the R1 000 rent charge as a “toothpick” in terms of its worth.
They know the old mining houses they live in are historically important, but Mayikiso says these houses are the only homes they have.
“My husband is upset. Now, he says the mines were just using him. They treat him like Grandpa; you know when you get a headache, you drink the Grandpa and you throw away the paper,” she says.
To push forward their case, they have teamed up with people in the informal settlement to get defence lawyers to fight both cases simultaneously.
The residents of Crown Mines Village
Andres Modisane remembers when Crown Mines Village was just a few shacks. Now it’s an informal settlement with more than 100 people living there, many of whom are young foreign nationals. Nearly all of them are unemployed.
Modisane, a community leader, says he has lived there for 18 years with his family, and like everyone around him, is poor and has no access to other housing.
In response to the business owners’ allegations about crime in the area, Modisane says that he tipped off the police on the whereabouts of criminals in the settlement.
“We went to the lawyers of the business owners to try and talk about [the situation]. They were surprised to see us,” he says. “We’re still trying to talk to the City of Johannesburg because we want to know what will happen to us.”
Approached for comment, Nthatisi Modingoane, spokesperson for the City of Johannesburg, said the informal settlement was “not part of the 181 informal settlements registered in the City of Johannesburg. It sounds like a case where a private owner neglected a piece of land which then gets invaded illegally.”
Modingoane added that the City’s housing department will visit the informal settlement to gather more information and to give an informed response.
The interest of business and jobs
Sitting in his office, the chairperson of the Crown Mines Improvement District, Laurence Lotzoff, relates the long battle he’s had to get business on track.
Together with other private business owners, he sought to have a Refugee Reception Office in the area shut down in 2005.
They took issue with the office because they said it slowed down business. He says foreign nationals were sleeping on the streets around the office, desperate to queue as early as they could to get documentation.
The business owners won their case to shut down the Refugee Reception Office, and shortly after formed the Crown Mines Improvement District. Now, they’re taking on Crown Mines Village.
“If you have to ask me about the balance, I would say take the squatter camp down, build a development that could offer jobs, and fix the entrance of the area to make room for more development,” says Lotzoff.
He adds: “We’re not asking the City for a favour — we’re asking them to abide by the law to provide alternative temporary emergency accommodation for people who need it.”
Lotzoff blames the Johannesburg municipality for their “negligence”, adding that the Crown Mines Improvement District has consulted the municipality, heritage associations and the SAPS, and now believes its only solution is to evict the other parties.
For Florence Mayikiso, this matters little. All she wants is a solution that will help people keep their home.