Mashaba vs Alex: Rebuilding illegal houses ‘is about politics, not virtue’

City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba conducts walkabout in Alexandra where over 80 structures were demolished.
City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba conducts walkabout in Alexandra where over 80 structures were demolished.

The people of Alexandra are calling for the demolition of every illegal structure in the community, and have accused Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba of breaking the city’s bylaws.

Mashaba – whose DA party is governing the country’s economic hub as part of an opposition coalition that includes the Economic Freedom Fighters – insisted that illegal houses, which had been demolished last week, would be rebuilt.

“During the Alexandra shutdown earlier this year the main issue that the people of Alex raised and was of great concern to them was the rise of illegal structures in the area,” said ANC Zone 13 secretary Banele Sangcozi, who said that Mashaba had “gone against the wishes of the people of Alexandra”.

“When they saw the demolition take place, Alex community members were happy. But they were angry and disgusted at the mayor’s decision to rebuild the illegal structures.”

Residents of the township located near the upper-class suburb of Sandton called for the municipality to implement the bylaws, instead of assisting civilians to break them.

“The ANC in Alexandra is not shocked to learn that Mashaba has decided to go against the wishes of the people of Alexandra. As the mayor deployed by the EFF, we expected him to disregard the wishes of Alexandrians,” Sangcozi said.

Mashaba and the Economic Freedom Fighter’s Gauteng chairperson Mandisa Mashego appeared in front of a crowd of attentive Alexandra residents on Monday and assured them that the City of Joburg would immediately rebuild their houses.

“The City must make a plan within the next few weeks. The City must rebuild your structures. I understand you are here illegally, but the City removed you illegally. Two wrongs do not make a right,” Mashaba told the crowd.

The mayor, who also used the platform to apologise to the displaced individuals, said that the demolition did not have his political directive.

“Give me an opportunity, on behalf of the City of Johannesburg to apologise profoundly. What happened did not have the support of the multiparty government that I lead,” Mashaba told the crowd.

“There are evil forces that decided to come and destroy your houses.”

Mashego, who had made her presence felt in the area since the demolitions took place on Friday told the residents that her party would make sure that Mashaba would see his promise through.

She said: “The mayor is not lying to you when he says we are going to rebuild the houses. He can’t lie to you, we will not allow him to lie to you. Maybe the other parties he is in coalition with will allow him to lie, but not the EFF.”

“We are here for our own political reasons but the City is here to account because they are the ones running government,” Mashego added.

Sangcozi told City Press that the Alexandra community members who were still waiting for housing were located in the older part of the township.

“The people who were occupying the illegal structures come from other areas of Joburg. They simply heard that the leadership of the EFF was selling illegal structures and they then came to occupy the area,” he said.

At the party’s first national assembly in December 2014, the EFF adopted the land occupation programme. The programme which “sees dispossessed communities taking ownership of vacant land as a means of empowering themselves” led to a spike in land invasions around Tshwane and Johannesburg.

Asked about plans to hinder Mashaba’s promises to rebuild, Sangcozi told City Press: “As the ANC we will allow the Alex shutdown committee together with the community to decide on the way forward.”

ANC Joburg spokesperson Jolidee Matongo shared Sangcozi’s sentiment regarding Mashaba’s promise, calling it “a promotion of illegality and illegitimate allocation of the City of Joburg residents’ money.”

He said: “We find it rather concerning that the mayor would defy a court order which cost the City money to enforce through the hiring of and paying of the services of the Red Ants.”

“It is more concerning that he wants to rebuild the homes on the same illegal land instead of providing an alternative, and more permanent, area for occupation.”

“This seemingly virtuous act from the mayor is not only reflective of his glaring inability to lead the City but also the fact that he places political expediency and keeping intact the marriage of convenience between him and his alliance partners over lawfulness and the safety of Joburg residents,” Matongo added.

On the other hand newly appointed human settlements MEC Lebogang Maile said that nothing less was expected of Mashaba.

He told City Press: “We expect him to rebuild the houses because the demolition was carried out by the municipality.”

Maile, who visited the area on Saturday, said that the issue of housing in the province was his main priority.

“Housing is a problem in Gauteng. We can’t just focus on Alex, we must look at the province as a whole,” he said.

“We are aware of a number of areas where people have occupied land illegally and we will remove them, especially those in unsafe spaces. However the removals will be done in a non-violent, humane manner.”

Maile added: “The illegal occupation of land is a consequence of recklessness and political scoring.

The demolition of more than 80 houses by the Red Ants last week left hundreds of community members displaced.

Disgruntled members of the community whose houses were demolished on Friday morning burnt and stoned houses that had not been affected by the demolition.

Earlier this year President Cyril Ramaphosa was criticised when he promised to build one million new houses across the country within five years during his campaigning.

Ramaphosa’s promise, made while he was electioneering came after residents of Alexandra shut down the township, demanding better service delivery, housing and land.

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