Slums are big business

2014-11-22 00:00

DURBAN slumlords have tapped into a multi-million rand trade — housing the poorest of the poor in 120 squalid buildings set in the Durban city centre.

City officials revealed their long list of buildings used in the illicit illegal ­accommodation trade during a swoop on five inner-city locations on Thursday night.

The slumlords now face legal action and fines. Some rake in nearly R500 000 per month, letting rooms to desperate illegal immigrants and dangerous criminals alike.

The swoop saw ranks of police officers alongside Home Affairs and city officials raid locations throughout the central business district.

The raids revealed Durban’s seedy underbelly, with pathways into derelict buildings providing a doorway into the blurred world of well-hidden slums.

Building after building revealed a ­labyrinth of drywall-divided rooms, lined with pictures of relatives next to threadbare and stained mattresses.

The smell of sweat pervades as the heat of collective bodies surges into the hallways.

Shadows were thrown long with torchlight, as shirtless men without passports or papers were handcuffed in a row, before the solemn march towards the rumbling police truck.

Thirty men and women suspected to have entered the country illegally were detained, and the process of charging and deporting them began in earnest.

Safer Cities and iTrump Unit senior manager Hoosen Moolla said they had to carry out these searches to ensure the city’s upkeep. “We have got to keep the city in check, it can’t become another Hillbrow.”

He said they had identified problem buildings that were non-compliant in terms of the regulations of the city.

“We look at undocumented people that are living in these buildings and search for drugs and stolen property. The idea is to ensure the city is safe and the buildings do not become a platform for criminal elements to live in and commit crime.”

Moolla said in terms of enforcement, the city had a plan of action.

He said 120 buildings had been red-flagged by the city and were classed as slums.

“Some of these are long-term, it doesn’t just happen overnight. If it is a hijacked building then we’ve got to deal with hijackers, then deal with removing people from the building who go to court and say we can’t evict them, it’s the responsibility of the municipality to provide housing,” he said.

“We have contacted owners who try to justify the buildings by saying they were providing much needed shelter and keeping people off streets, and some denied knowing what happens in their buildings because they had been leased out,” he said.

• rumana.akoob@witness.co.za, jeff.wicks@witness.co.za

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