Public Protector tackles hijacked buildings

Acting Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka will discuss with the Joburg council the blaze that killed 76 people and the city’s plan of action for the property.

Gcaleka’s office was asked over a year ago by civil society and political parties to investigate allegations of hijacked buildings.

A successful investigation will facilitate the implementation of the necessary measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, Gcaleka said on Friday through the office’s spokesperson, Ndili Msoki.

At that meeting, said Gcaleka, the city would be expected to provide time frames for its interventions in relation to the public protector’s investigation.

Gcaleka said the state of affected properties in the Joburg inner city was appalling, and the public protector’s office endeavoured to urgently prepare and produce an intervention report.

She conveyed sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of the fire that gutted the building at 80 Albert Street.

She also confirmed the acting provincial representative based at the public protector’s Johannesburg office attended the scene and the subsequent media briefing held by the City of Johannesburg on Thursday.

She said that due to the deplorable state of the inner city, the public protector in July last year initiated an investigation into systemic administrative deficiencies in connection with the alleged illegal occupation of buildings belonging to the city.

She said the office was concerned the lack of proper administrative processes had enabled individuals to occupy buildings belonging to the city without permission.

Gcaleka said the investigation involved several stakeholders, including the city, the South African Police Service and the Department of Home Affairs.

She said that as part of the systemic investigation, the city, through the office of the city manager, had reported its position regarding several elements of the matter.

The city reported that certain matters had been referred to SAPS for further investigation.

The city also conducted inspections in loco in conjunction with internal stakeholders such as the Johannesburg Metro Police Department, emergency management services, social development and others.

The public protector also learnt the city risked incurring fruitless and wasteful expenditures if a budget was allocated to maintain buildings not under its control due to properties being hijacked or stolen. It is only under an existing lease agreement that the City of Johannesburg can maintain buildings.

She said that in June, the city reported it had awarded approximately 35 properties to developers for redevelopment into low-cost housing, student housing, or rental space for small businesses, as part of its Inner-City Rejuvenation Programme.

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