Police stood by and watched as “building hijackers” violently occupied a social-housing complex in Brooklyn, says Communicare, the non-profit company that owns it.
Communicare says it has approached the Western Cape High Court to remove illegal occupants at the Goedehoop Rental Housing complex. The case will be heard on Friday March 19.
Several dozen men and women clashed with security guards at the complex last Friday and two guards were hit on their heads with bricks, according to Communicare spokeswoman Makhosi Kubheka.
Maitland and Milnerton police officers had watched “with folded arms”, said Ms Kubheka, as bins were burnt, doors of paying tenants were broken, cars were damaged, tenants were threatened and a woman in her 80s was beaten over her legs during a commotion that lasted until 3am on Saturday.
She said a security guard reported that a policeman had asked him “to let the people move in so long to put an end to the violence”.
That would not have been a solution, she said, because tenants would stop paying rent and the building would go to ruin.
She accused Maitland police of refusing to take statements from residents and Communicare and said that while police failed to act, paying tenants remained behind closed doors and under threat.
“We need police presence here at all times,” she said.
Communicare had turned to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) for help but had received no response, she said.
Anthea Houston, Communicare CEO, said their lawyers had applied to the court for a spoliation order to remove illegal occupants.
The issue dates back to March 2, when 25 people, including women and children, invaded 17 of the vacant units at the 132-unit complex in Justin Street.
In the space of a week, said Ms Houtson, the number of illegal occupants had doubled to more than 50, and so far 24 units had been occupied.
“When the first people illegally occupied there, the police already did not want to assist us,” she said.
But Maitland police station spokeswoman Constable Sandiswa Saula said a resident complained of malicious damage to their property on Tuesday March 2 and another resident had complained about disturbance of the peace at 8pm on Wednesday March 3, and she could find no record of police having been called to the area at the weekend. And no one had come forward to lay charges.
She had no record of police being there at the weekend, she said.
Milnerton Police spokesperson Captain Nopaya Modyibi said no arrests had been made and no records of the incident had been logged on the system.
When Tabletalk visited the complex on Thursday March 11, a group of men kept watch over various household appliances and pieces of furniture on a piece of ground opposite the complex.
A security guard directed us to a flat that he said had been illegally occupied. But a child was sent to the door, while a woman shouted, “What do you want?”
She then came to the door and said she and her daughter were living with an aunt who was ill. She was not there illegally, she said.
Other residents refused to speak, and children playing on the balcony were chased inside by a man with a stick who spoke a foreign language.
Aboebaker Kippie, who lives opposite the complex, blamed Communicare for “allowing the first batch of people” to move in on March 2.
The illegal occupants were controlling the gates, while security guards sat to one side, he said.
He said he was worried about the old and frail who lived in the complex.
“I can see everything happening in the complex. Usually the older people would stand on their balcony and chat, but I haven’t seen them out of their apartments for the past two weeks.”
Mr Kippie said he had tried to enter the complex on Sunday March 14 but a man at the gate had told him to leave or else he would be hurt.
“I blame Communicare for all of this. Firstly, how do these people know that the apartments are vacant, and how do they decide which apartments to invade?”
He encouraged the community to stand together, and he called on the ward councillor, Fabian Ah-Sing, to step in.
Mr Ah-Sing said he would meet with Communicare this week as the tenants and people living in the area feared for their lives.
In the meantime, he said, he would be “putting pressure on police to do their job.”
Tabletalk contacted Ipid spokeswoman Ndileka Cola on Monday March 15. She said she would respond by Tuesday March 16, at 9.30am, but did not do so despite follow-up calls, emails and texts.
Mayor Dan Plato condemned the invasions and said there should be consequences for those who tried to hijack buildings.
Provincial Department of Human Settlements spokesperson Nathan Adriaanse said citizens should follow the legal route of registering on the housing demand database.