23 arrested during JMPD bust of 'hijacked' buildings

Handcuffs. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
Handcuffs. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Johannesburg - Twenty-three undocumented foreign nationals were arrested by the Johannesburg Metro police department on Friday night in a crime prevention operation targeting "hijacked buildings".

The 23 were detained at the Hillbrow Police Station, pending more information by immigration officers from the department of home affairs.

JMPD also confiscated expired goods from shops near Vannin Court, slapping shop owners with fines after an inspection found that they were selling expired goods.

Vannin Court, a building owned by the City of Johannesburg, and Florence House, near Constitution Hill were raided in an operation led by the city's Group Forensic and Investigation Service Unit, along with the South African Police Service (SAPS), department of home affairs, JMPD, Emergency Management Services (EMS) and the city's health and social development departments in an effort to "turn around the decay of [the] inner city".

In a statement, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said that at Vannin Court, some of the residents there were being charged between R250 to R1 200 per person to rent a bed by supposed "owners" of the building.

"Hijacked buildings are a major problem in our inner city, with our people living in deplorable conditions and being abused by slumlords who extort money from them," he said, adding that criminals were running into these rundown buildings and hiding when pursued by police.

Crime prevention operation

A few years ago, numerous bodies were found in Florence House.

The building - which used to be Florence Nightingale Hospital - was "hijacked" in 2012, with former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela ordering in 2014 that the Joburg metro conduct an investigation into all privately-owned buildings that had been illegally occupied.

The crime prevention operation is aimed at collecting data on those living in the buildings, including information such as the gender, age and employment status of occupants, Mashaba said.

"Before we are able to obtain an eviction order, it is vital that we profile the occupants living in the building and ensure that we are able to find alternative accommodation for them," said Mashaba.

He said he wanted to see rundown buildings turned into quality low-cost housing and affordable rental spaces for small businesses.

Mashaba has previously launched an operation which saw JMPD officers confiscating church equipment from illegal churches in various areas of Hillbrow's residential flats, disrupting residents at odd hours for worship services.

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