- The Gauteng provincial government has launched an anti-land occupation strategy due to a surge in these incidents.
- Patrollers will be deployed to work with law enforcement and alert authorities of any occupations in hotspots.
- The province says it will not evict any people occupying land illegally during the lockdown, but will implement its court order once the lockdown ends.
Residents from Patsing informal settlement near Lenasia, in southern Johannesburg, have vowed to die for the land they are occupying.
On Monday, residents gathered singing struggle songs and toyi-toying outside the settlement as the provincial government's leaders and City of Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo launched an "anti-land invasion strategy".
The programme would see the government deploy about 1 500 community safety patrollers across the province. Makhubo launched the initiative with Gauteng Human Settlements, Urban Planning and Cooperative Governance MEC Lebogang Maile, Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko and Infrastructure Development MEC Tasneem Motara.
The patrollers will be tasked with working with law enforcement agencies to report any illegal land occupations at identified hotspots.
The officials said they decided to announce the initiative in the area because it was one of the hotspots, with people occupying the land partly owned by the government.
Maile said the illegal land occupation created problems for government's planning and development, intended to benefit communities.
"These people have come here illegally; soon there will be a service delivery protest because there is no water, electricity, and that's not planned for, and government will be accused of being incompetent; of not caring and all that," Maile said.
But as the officials addressed the media across the road from the illegal structures, a group of residents broke out in song, with some waving placards reading "the land is for us".
Security was tight with police officers in nyalas also on site to monitor the situation. The group dispersed after being addressed by their community leaders.
Officials, however, did not speak to the protesters.
Sibusiso Mokoena, who has been living in the informal settlement for over a year, said he had moved here from a different area, where he lived in a dwelling he paid rent for.
He said he could no longer afford rent and moved to the area where he built himself a shack.
"When it is time to vote, they beg us, but now they are harassing us. They come and waste our money by demolishing our shacks while we are at work. Where must we go?
"All we want is for the government to give us something in writing to say we are now legally occupying this land. Enough is enough, and we are going nowhere," Mokoena said.
Residents said their shacks had been demolished twice before - in January and April - and if government returned to remove them, they would also start damaging flats nearby.
Community leader Thabo Molatoudi, who was born on the farm and had been living in the area for almost 30 years, said they had only moved towards the main road from deep inside the informal settlement because trees were falling on top of their shacks. He said they were not new and had tried on multiple occasions to engage with government.
"We have been asking to be relocated to this area here because of safety reasons, but nobody seems to be listening. But when the community is doing it for themselves, then it becomes a problem.
"This, to somebody sitting in a high office, is a shack. To me, it's a home. These are not shacks. These are people's homes. I am going to die for this property, my home. Because when they take my home, they might as well kill me," Molatoudi said.
Maile said there was a surge in people illegally occupying land, with people taking advantage of the fact that they were not allowed to be evicted during the national lockdown.
He said the provincial government would be intensifying its roll-out of the "rapid land response programme".
Maile added that government had, in its possession, several court orders that it would execute and use to evict those illegally occupying land, but that would only be done post the lockdown when the regulations were no longer in effect.
"We have got at least a million people who are waiting for houses in Gauteng and we know and understand that this is a big problem, which has to be tackled in a systematic way, orderly manner and that is why, in our housing, one of the things is to release land through our rapid land release programme," the MEC said.
But residents said they were ready for any upcoming evictions and would retaliate.