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#Why we reclaim houses

  The hijacker of a R1.2million Joburg house has given an insight into the hardships that push desperate home seekers to illegally usurp houses and buildings.
“We’re not criminals or hijackers, and it is painful to be labelled one,” said Angie Nyatyoba.
Speaking while surrounded by members of an Orange Grove community group which has in the past three weeks taken over some 15 properties owned by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), Nyatyoba claimed she was tired of being homeless for over 20 years.
She said her group had resorted to annexing these properties because the City of Joburg was overlooking homeless South Africans in favour of foreigners.
“The JPC is leasing these houses to foreigners while we, as locals, who can afford and are willing to pay rent and services, have been homeless since 1994 moving from place to place to get a roof over our heads,” she said.
The JPC has purchased about 80 properties in Orange Grove, Highlands North and Upper Houghton to redevelop them into public facilities such as clinics, libraries and higher-rise buildings to increase densification.
The delay in the construction of the Rea Vaya route along Louis Botha Avenue has kept some properties vacant, while others were rented out on a temporary basis.
“Preference is being given to foreigners who (mainly) do not pay for services. This is not about xenophobia - the foreigners must rent from private property owners, not the city,” Nyatyoba said.
Many of the “reclaimed” houses had already been vandalised, but the group members were assisting the locals in repairing the houses they were relocated to.
The group have been toyi-toying every night along Louis Botha Avenue for the past three weeks. In January, they burnt tyres and mattresses.
“We will continue our protests, because we know some corrupt JPC officials have moved foreigners - who we evicted to other JPC houses in Highlands North - and we will pursue them. We have rights as local South Africans to live in houses owned by the city.
“We understand that we have to pay, and that by doing so, we are contributing to the economy,” Nyatyoba added.
Private properties would not be targeted - only those owned by the city, she pointed out.
“We have white neighbours, who are South African, and we will not involve them,” she said.
The women’s forum, which she belongs to, has placed several single women and children in the houses they “took back”.
She claims to have requested a lease several times so that she could start paying.
She gave the undertaking that “the property would also not be overcrowded”. “To add insult to injury, they placed a security guard outside my house 24 hours a day to make sure of this.
“What a waste of money that is,” Nyatyoba said, adding that they could have been paying for services instead of paying a guard.
“When I moved in, the grass was high and the house was in a mess. The outside cottage had no hot water, so I got a geyser and retiled the kitchen, and fixed the garden. My house is now immaculate. I spend money on a gardener every week to keep the place clean.
“All I want now is the dignity and peace to be registered and acknowledged, so that I can start paying for services. I do not feel good living here for free,” Nyatyoba said.
Her children, who live in Alexandra, refuse to move in with her because she has moved around so often due to not being settled.
She said she had “shopped around” for her house on the JPC website. The house was vacant at the time and she admitted to moving in illegally “to get the attention” of the council.
The group are non-political, she claims. “We want to see (President) Cyril Ramaphosa, mayor Herman Mashaba and the Joburg housing officials personally, or there will be no vote for them. Both the ANC and DA have let us down. At least the EFF sent a representative to hear our voices.”
Nyatyoba showed The Star the property she now lives in. “You can see how clean and neat it is,” she said.
The group said they were aware that JPC officials were involved and were giving foreigners access to the houses, with a once-off payment of between R15 000 and R50 000, and would thereafter collect the rent.
“We keep on trying to talk to the JPC but we do not get heard. That is why, by our action of taking back the properties, we will get their attention and be heard.”
Many of the properties have legitimate leases with the foreigners but are overcrowded, with up to 33 people in a two-bedroom house that has been sublet. Other houses had been partitioned off, selling available space for up to R3500 a month.
Members of the group who have taken over the houses were served with eviction orders last year, which they ignored.
“We want to clean up Orange Grove with legitimate tenants who will improve the area they are investing in.”
The city said it was aware of the situation in Orange Grove and that the matter was referred to the city’s group forensic and investigation service (GFIS) last year. A preliminary investigation was done by GFIS and then referred to a private firm for further investigations.
Allegations levelled against the security manager at the JPC, who has since been suspended, include leasing some of the vacant properties to foreigners, and illegally collecting rent for his own benefit.
“We are also aware that a foreigner collects rent from tenants on behalf of the security manager, who is illegally staying on one of the properties,” said city spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane.
Other allegations involve senior JPS staff members.
“Investigation into these claims have been finalised and the draft report with recommendations handed to GFIS and the JPC in February. The GFIS team, together with the JPC, are discussing the recommendations, which have established that more JPC employees are involved in the illegal leasing of properties in Orange Grove,” Modingoane pointed out.

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