The tragedy of land dispossession and land invasion in South Africa

In South Africa there is no land that has no owner at the deeds office or is not under the authority of a local chief. There is a need to acquire land for rent or permanent ownership through existing laws, not through violence or hijacking of land and buildings.

Once land has been acquired it must be operated within existing by-laws. For the past 60 years, South Africa has had many laws that govern urban and peri-urban areas in terms of building permits, zoning, health and safety, proper electrical wiring or other forms of energy supply.

Thus, any building or land in South Africa is subject to rules, regulations and laws, and it must always remain so for the sake of law and order and human safety.

Building hijacking and land invasion are largely driven by the desire to live outside of existing rules and to forcibly take land and buildings from lawful owners and hand those over to illegal occupiers. This undermines existing title deeds of black people and other ethnic groups. It is not liberatory and is in fact counter-revolutionary and reactionary.

The first consequence of this takes us back about 2 000 years in history. In the year 64AD (Anno Domini), the Great fire of Rome raged for nine days and burnt 10 out 14 districts of the city to the ground, 71% of Rome was lost.

Out of that, engineers, town planners and legislators have developed over the centuries many guidelines of how to create safe stands, how to create safe buildings and safe cities generally.

This means dangerous activities are controlled and fire suppression, sewage control, waste management and all manner of facilities are regulated, inspected and maintained by professionals to safeguard life and property.

Hijacked buildings are no-go areas for any type of inspectors including the police. Metro police stay away from any form of land invasion or hijacked buildings due to the violence and political support behind land invaders and illegal occupiers. There are all kinds of mafia and slum lords that run squatter camps and hijacked buildings.

The second consideration is that our legislators put themselves in a pickle, by undermining property rights and title deeds completely. In the present arrangement, if someone invades your property and can hang onto it, even by physical violence, for 72 hours, then they become a permitted illegal occupier of that land.

This is called the Prevention of Illegal Evictions Act (PIE Act). Once that is done, the land invaders are free to take that land and implement any arbitrary township planning scheme, establish an ever-expanding slum, with no engineering expertise, no environmental health and safety measures.

They will continue until the landowner has raised the capital to pay for a court order authorising the eviction of illegal occupiers of the land.

The cost of such evictions is between R200 000 and R1.2-million.

The state funds illegal occupiers to defend the eviction in court. The court often orders illegal occupiers to stay in hijacked building or on invaded land until the municipality finds alternative accommodation for the illegal occupiers.

Health and safety are not catered for as we saw in Joburg in the past week going back 15 years of unsafe habitations.

The municipality applies to court to say it has no alternative accommodation for a foreseeable future to shelter illegal occupiers, which can easily be 20 years of waiting. The owner is dispossessed of the land and cannot even use a small piece of that land because the planning and sub-dividing of that land is now in the hands of slumlords, unscrupulous municipal councillors, illegal occupiers and the courts.

Violence against owners is commonplace.

In Johannesburg, the hijacking of buildings was already in progress in the early 1990s. Hillbrow, Joubert Park, Berea, Windsor and many surrounding areas were starting to be run by an assortment of criminals, building hijackers, drug dealers and slumlords.

The democratic government of the ANC made it increasingly difficult for municipal councils and the police to evict land invaders and building hijackers through anti-title deed legislation such as the PIE Act.

Many black families and property owners have been beaten up and dispossessed of their land by illegal land invaders and slumlords who are often supported by corrupt municipal councillors and other politicians running rackets.

This becomes important if one accepts that the ANC was supposed to re-establish legitimate property ownership in black communities. The practice of massive RDP housing schemes was terminated after the 2007 ANC Polokwane conference, black land ownership schemes have also ceased.


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