Booze, dagga and filth: The rotten stench of Rosettenville's streets of hell

19 February 2017 - 02:02 By KHANYI NDABENI
The lights are off but there are more than 30 people in this Rosettenville building.
The lights are off but there are more than 30 people in this Rosettenville building.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

Welcome to southern Johannesburg, where seething residents have formed vigilante mobs, attacking the slumlords who they claim have hijacked houses, turning them into drug dens and brothels

In a house in Johannesburg's crime-infested southern suburb of La Rochelle, a man and his wife sit in a pool of blood.

It's mid-afternoon and they are waiting for an ambulance after a drinking spree turned violent and they stabbed each other.

About 20 people live in the house, which is best described as a slum. There is a pungent mix of smells: urine, dagga, cigarettes and filth.

Outside, a group of men sit drinking beer.

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The tenants - who say they have lived here for 13 years - complain that they are being unfairly evicted. They say the house belongs to a woman who now lives in an old-age home, but they have been told by foreigners to move out.

They have asked the ward councillor for help.

"The Nigerians came again; what must we do, councillor?" asked a woman. She said "the foreigner" had told them the house had been sold and they must get out.

"We have children and have nowhere to go. Plus, we don't trust that they have legit papers to kick us out."

Exactly who has the legal right to occupy the house is unknown, but DA councillor Tyrell Meyers said the hijacking of houses in the southern Johannesburg areas of Rosettenville, La Rochelle, Moffat View, Regents Park, South Hills and Turffontein was common.

Residents claim it is one of the main reasons for the prostitution and other crime that afflict the area.

Increasingly, frustrated residents go on the rampage, as they did last weekend, torching houses believed to be harbouring hookers and drug dealers.

Yesterday, similar violence broke out in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, where residents set alight two houses believed to belong to drug dealers and attacked congregants at a Nigerian church.

While figures vary, research by the City of Johannesburg in 2010 found there were 2,700 hijacked properties in the southern and inner-city regions.

"In the south we have estate agencies that are owned and managed by foreigners and we have proof that some of them operate without a fidelity certificate," Meyers said.

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"They buy houses on auction, sometimes privately, and then kick out tenants without following the proper legal procedures. They will change the building plan and put in paying tenants. No lease is signed and rent is often collected in cash. No receipt is given to tenants."

Meyers claimed the property hijackers worked in syndicates that included people in the deeds office, the city council, City Power, Johannesburg Water and the police. There are allegations that the sheriff's office was also involved.

"The problem with hijacked properties is that they attract a lot of criminal activities.

"Another problem is that when the property owner dies and his next of kin come to claim the house they find other people occupying it and paying rent to someone they don't know."

Melody Nyembezi, 63, also claims to be a victim of house hijacking.

The former domestic worker had been renting a house from her former employer for years and had finally made an agreement with the owner to buy it. But her dreams were short-lived.

Last month a man known only as Frank came to evict the family. He said he had bought the house at auction in 2014.

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Without being given notice, Nyembezi and her family, including her seven-year-old grandchild, found themselves sleeping in the streets, locked out of the house they had called home for 20 years.

Community leader Andile Tshem said most of the hijacked houses were turned into brothels and drug dens.

Last weekend, angry residents torched several homes, one of which belonged to South African truck driver Erick Mohale.

Mohale's caretaker, Thembinkosi Sithole, said the house had been occupied by tenants who were not paying rent and had racked up a R76,000 bill for electricity and water.

A tenant in nearby Drakensberg Road, Rosettenville, said landlords did not take proper care of the houses.

"Our landlord collects more than R40,000 a month from us. There are about 15 families living here. We share one toilet.

"The landlord comes at 6am to collect rent. He doesn't want to give us leases, and we don't get receipts. He wants cash."

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sub_head_start Herman puts faith in new city courts sub_head_end

Johannesburg will have municipal courts up and running by the end of next month to assist in addressing crime in areas such as Rosettenville, mayor Herman Mashaba said this week.

"We are at a very advanced stage. There will be an announcement any day now."

He said the courts would have their own prosecutors and magistrates who would not fall under the National Prosecuting Authority. They will deal with issues relating to bylaws.

"This government, the way they are doing things, they are forcing us to look at private prosecutions," he said.

He said the issue of hijacked houses in Rosettenville and surrounding areas was of concern.

"What is worrying is that after hijacking buildings, immediately they start building illegal structures without even applying to the city. You think it's one house but you have 20 other structures at the back, rented out and with no permits to build, accessing our electricity for free - at a big scale."

Mashaba said the city was not receiving any assistance from national government in addressing the crime in these areas.

"I wrote a letter to [Home Affairs] Minister [Malusi] Gigaba because a big number of these illegal activities were committed by foreign nationals and it's a big challenge for the City of Johannesburg. I've written to him three times but he hasn't really responded. I will keep on trying.

"At the end of the day, our powers are so limited. We [the Johannesburg metro police department] don't have prisons, we don't have prosecutors, and we don't have courts. We are not responsible for immigration issues."

ndabenik@sundaytimes.co.za