Illegal immigrants and crooks hijack abandoned metro buildings

Foreign nationals and unscrupulous individuals are hijacking abandoned buildings in key metros in the country, and the municipalities are hamstrung to act due to fear of litigation.

This is the grim picture that was painted at the fourth national municipal legal practitioners forum held in Durban on Thursday and Friday last week.

Municipal managers, accounting and finance officials, and municipal legal advisors partici-pated in the event, which was the brainchild of the South African Local Government Association (Salga), to exchange ideas on important legal issues affecting local government.

Speaking to Sunday World on the sidelines of the gathering, Salga national chairperson of the governance and international relations working group, Lance Joel said three metros in the country, namely eThekwini, the City of Johannesburg and Tshwane, were targeted by the hijackers.

He said the buildings were hijacked by dodgy individuals and illegal immigrants who capitalised on the municipalities’ reluctance to evict them because of the costs and complexities associated with the application of eviction orders.

“We had the benefit of listening to the City of Johannesburg, eThekwini and Tshwane, including representation from the SAPS, on this topic of hijacked buildings. One thing that became very clear is that we all think that it is simple to walk into a building and take people out. There are laborious court processes that should be followed,” said Lance.

He also explained that property hijacking was a serious national crisis that posed a national security threat.

“The process is costly for municipalities because once they have evicted people, they have an obligation to find alternative accommodation for them. The buildings are also not owned by municipalities; they are privately owned. We also need to work with various stakeholders, such as the department of home affairs, because there are illegal immigrants involved,” he said.

Asked why, despite having legal practitioners, several municipalities continue to carry the heavy costs of litigation on issues that could have been possibly resolved out of court, he said cases vary from one municipality to the next.

“If you look into the municipal environment, you won’t find a uniform kind of problem. These legal practitioners stationed in municipalities might not be able to deal with each and every problem that emanates from municipalities because the environment is very complex.

“At times, it’s good that they prepare for certain cases that they will escalate.

“The reason why we have such a forum is for them to understand that they must also utilise the association to complement the capacity that they have,” explained Janda.

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