Tshwane’s proactive plan to eradicate hijacked buildings

Connie Queline

Tshwane’s proactive plan to eradicate hijacked buildings

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JEREMY MAGGS: The Tshwane Metro has approved a strategic plan to fight hijacked and illegally occupied buildings, in essence, taking them over and going then to the private sector. More now on this issue from the MMC for corporate and shared services, Kingsley Wakelin. Firstly, how many buildings are there?

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Jeremy, to be quite frank with you, we have got a very good view on our own current properties that we own. We don’t necessarily have a broader view on private properties that are owned either by other organs of state or private owners. It’s for that reason that we have decided to put together an integrated team to first and foremost start with a complete assessment and an audit on the complete inner city to have an understanding. But in our own situation, we’ve got approximately five, six buildings that we are busy monitoring at the moment.

Read: Jeremy’s weekly wrap

JEREMY MAGGS: Why is it important for you to develop this strategy?

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Just from a broader term, globally people are flocking to big cities and metros obviously for economic reasons. Tshwane is the hub for any (foreigners from) northern countries and we’ve got a lot of undocumented foreigners coming through. We have got a lot of people flocking to the city of Tshwane. So in general, I think it’s not just a Tshwane problem, I think it is a big metro problem throughout the world and we need to be prepared.

We’ve obviously picked up on the matter that’s happened in Johannesburg and a number of other places, and we realised that we need to put together a much broader strategy because what is happening.

We picked up on also the silo effect within departments. We need to look at the integrated approach to ensure that we have everybody on board.

Read/listen:
Massive crackdown on hijacked government-owned buildings
Hijacked Joburg building fire: Survivors tell their stories
Property owners take CoJ to court over illegal occupations

JEREMY MAGGS: Broadly, are you able to tell me the condition of these buildings?

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Well, I can sit and tell you they are completely dilapidated. A lot of them have got illegal connections. A lot of them have got no proper sewer systems or water reticulation systems. So the buildings in general are in very bad condition. Obviously, some of them are hijacked. They’re asking, particularly people who want to have accommodation, asking extremely high prices and obviously extort them, and this is the area that we need to focus on.

We as a city are not in a very bad state as far as the number of buildings as far as we know so far. But we want to make sure that we have some preventative and proactive approach.

JEREMY MAGGS: Do you have a sense of how many occupants there are in total?

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: That is the problem, we don’t know. We can tell you they do multiple rooms within a flat, you’ll find that they use very cheap material to cordon it off and that’s part of the building regulations that are contravened. So I can tell you, they obviously put as (many people) as they can put in. We don’t have the numbers and that’s part of the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing.

JEREMY MAGGS: But could run into hundreds.

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: In actual fact I think it could be thousands and particularly if you look at high-rise buildings over ten, 15 stories high. So it could be in thousands, ja.

JEREMY MAGGS: And your plan would involve eviction, no doubt.

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KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Ja, so we are looking at eviction processes through courts obviously, taking back these buildings, convert them back into proper social housing possibly or work with NGOs, working with government, working with private investors and those who are interested. Obviously, there’s a very specific focus in this area for us because we’ve got quite a large number of universities to provide proper accommodation for students as well.

JEREMY MAGGS: But you would conceivably have thousands of people on the streets.

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Part of the agreement or part of the PIE Act (Prevention of Illegal Eviction) would let us look at alternative emergency accommodation, which then will form part of this strategic plan that we want to put in and provide this alternative accommodation. Our previous court outcomes have shown that we need to obviously look at that portion of the complete value chain.

JEREMY MAGGS: Where is that emergency accommodation?

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: That’s part of the plan that this team has to put together. We are looking possibly at each region, and we’ve got seven regions in the city, to possibly put forward a typical emergency accommodation, which will include complete toilets and water and sanitation to be available for these people.

JEREMY MAGGS: But conceivably outside city limits and people often go to a city in order to find work.

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Ja but unfortunately our position is clear that we cannot allow continuous illegal occupation of buildings, that it will just break down the complete trust that the people have got in the city and our local government. We need to show some recourse in this and that’s why obviously we’ve got very strict bylaws and law that we need to enforce.

JEREMY MAGGS: I understand that you’ve got to enforce the bylaws, but would you give a guarantee that any evictions will be done sensitively and with empathy because this isn’t always the case.

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: Yes, of course. We are watched and we have learned through our previous lessons. We’ve obviously got the human rights lawyers and so ja, we will ensure that we’ll stay within the law and within the confines of human dignity and be sensitive because we understand where these people are coming from.

But we need to apply (the law) because our bigger problem that we have at the moment as well is that these slum lords and these syndicates have a roaring business and that is part of the issue that we will deal with because in addition to that issue is that you’ll have the drug problems that we have and prostitution and everything that goes with these types of buildings. So it’s not just about accommodation, it is a broader lawlessness that we want to capture and fix.

JEREMY MAGGS: This is a final question to you. There is a partnership that you’re proposing with the private sector. How are you going to ensure that this process is corruption free?

KINGSLEY WAKELIN: So we have got a clear process that is tried by law. We want to put out everything on open tender. We want to make sure that we have got the best people to do the job, people who are committed to the long-term plan of the city. You can be very certain. Just recently we are in the process of finalising our SAP system, supply chain process, which is called Ariba, which will be hands off.

It’s a complete technological system, which will then allow for a proper process to be followed and tracked and audited. Obviously, you’ll always have the human element, but we are trying to all eliminate that. But you can be certain that’s something that we will keep our hawk eyes on.

JEREMY MAGGS: Kingsley Wakelin, thank you very much indeed.

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