Johannesburg - City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba says he does not only believe in expropriation, but that he is willing to carry it out - at times without compensation - if it is done under the prescripts of the law.
Mashaba's example relates mainly to buildings in the metropole he serves, as he tries to address a growing need for accommodation in one of the country's most populated cities.
Last week, in a historic sitting, Parliament agreed to a motion brought by the Economic Freedom Fighters to expropriate land without compensation. It was passed after 324 out of the 400 members of the National Assembly agreed to the motion.
Mashaba's political party, the Democratic Alliance, rejected the bid, claiming that expropriation without compensation was not an answer.
The DA said there was no need to amend the Constitution and blamed the African National Congress and its government for the slow process of land redistribution.
"Even before Parliament started this debate, buildings in the inner city that have been hijacked by criminal syndicates turning our city into slums. I've already empowered the JPC [Joburg Property Company] to start the process of expropriating those buildings so that we can build affordable accommodation for our people, so that we can build accommodation for our students and small business areas for our people," Mashaba said.
He spoke to News24 in his office on Monday.
Mashaba said, in his bid to rejuvenate the city and to find purpose for disused buildings, he wanted to find owners of buildings. However, where those attempts failed, he would expropriate.
The mayor said he was taken to court by a land owner, to whom the previous government had agreed to pay R14m instead of the R1m he had paid to acquire the space.
Mashaba said he defended his decision to cancel the R14m deal.
"The first time that report came to council, I refused. Then the court summoned me. I went to the High Court, to the judge; to demonstrate to them that the best I was prepared to offer the seller was the million rand that he had paid, not prepared to pay a cent more," he said.
"Otherwise, if he refuses my offer, I will expropriate this piece of land, and I was not really playing because I cannot understand why someone pays a million rand and the COJ [City of Johannesburg] before my time accepted to buy this piece of ground for R14m. I said over my dead body, this is not going to happen," Mashaba added.
When asked if he would have sided with the EFF in its motion for expropriation, Mashaba gave a carefully-worded response, saying that he had no stance on the issue as he didn't have all the necessary information behind the motion.
"But I can tell you what we are doing here as the COJ, where there's a piece of land or a building and you think you can speculate and you are not allowing us to use it as the city for the development of our economy, and providing affordable accommodation for our people, we will expropriate and never apologise to anyone about it," said Mashaba.
'If council thinks I must go, I will'
The EFF, since its motion was passed, has threatened to assist the ANC to remove one of the DA's mayors.
The political party's leader Julius Malema singled out Nelson Mandela Bay's Athol Trollip and warned that the other mayors were not necessarily safe.
Mashaba and the City of Tshwane's Solly Msimanga are the other two who could one day be affected as the DA was bolstered by the EFF to put them in power. Mashaba said he was not necessarily worried about such an outcome.
"I think I am a democrat. I believe in democracy. As long as parties that voted me into power remain prepared to vote for me, I will stay on. At any day when they feel dissatisfied with my work I will respect that decision. For me it's the country first and it's our residents first, not about politicking," said Mashaba.
He said it would be unfortunate for the EFF to remove Trollip if his counterpart was doing a good job.
Mashaba told News24 he had no idea how the NMBM mayor was running that city as he too was preoccupied with his own work in Johannesburg.
"I am not really certain in terms of his performance, but in terms of the reports that I read like everyone else, it looks like he is doing a much better job than the ANC has ever done. So, if the EFF decides to put the ANC back and continue with corruption, it's not something I have control over. I think we will leave it to the EFF to make that call," he concluded.
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