So sorry, land owner, but our shacks are staying
The squatters and land owner sympathise with one another, and insist that the City of Joburg must sort out the mess
Lenasia squatter camp residents in the south of Johannesburg who knowingly grabbed private land belonging to businessman Holilal Adjodah have vowed not to move until the government gives them houses – but also say they feel sorry for him.
Residents say it is high time the City of Johannesburg steps in and formalises their housing arrangement on the land that has been occupied for 26 years.
And Adjodah himself has expressed empathy with the squatters’ situation, saying he does not want evacuations, but for the City of Joburg to compensate him.
“These are human beings that are desperate for places to stay. All the city could do is to pay me what I need or we sit down and negotiate,” Adjodah told Times Select.
Osiynne Gonese, who erected his shack on the land more than 10 years ago, said the government should provide houses for them.
Gonese said they were aware that the land belonged to Adjodah.
“We need land and when people saw vacant land they decided to move in and I came in here 10 years ago. The only thing we want is houses and services; we won’t move out until such is given to us.”
Land occupiers are also fighting among themselves, with those moving in with bricks and mortar not considered “poor enough” to live there.
Ronnie Mbatha, who has lived on the site for six years, said those who had built proper houses were not supposed to be there because they could afford to live elsewhere.
“People have started building their homes using bricks and mortar in the area. All we need is proper housing development – and we really feel for Adjodah."
Mxolisi Matanzima said the squatters and their families had built lives here and couldn’t simply move.
“When we are here, we know we are near our workplaces. They must give us water and electricity, otherwise, if we leave, where are we going?”
Matanzima said the living conditions were not ideal – there were illegal electricity connections, which had killed seven people in the past two years.
“We are losing people and the latest victim is a very young child. This is the only thing that is bad about this place. Otherwise we are happy to stay here.”
The land is dotted with shacks built between trees and grass. Live electric wires have become a tangled web between the shacks, while a dirt road riddled with potholes is the only way in, past the remains of precast walls that were once used to fence off the area. There are no street lights, with people complaining that it is not safe to walk there at night.
Many residents did not want to speak to the media for fear of eviction. Most continued with their daily chores outside their shacks, some of which had shiny cars parked next to them.
Matanzima said the residents wanted the City of Joburg and Adjodah to resolve their ongoing battle.
“We know they’ve been fighting but all we need is houses. They must resolve their disputes and allow us to occupy the land,” said Matanzima.
Adjodah said he had been fighting with the city over his land for the past 26 years.
He had bought the land, which was a farm in Lenasia in 1993, with plans to develop it into an industrial park, but immediately after the purchase homeless people occupied it and started building shacks.
At the time, he complained to the city to remove them, and it promised to buy the land from him for R30m.
“I refused as that was small money from what I have lost there. I needed more than R400m as it was the money that I’ve lost if I had developed the land to what I wanted,” Adjodah said.
Of the R400m, R5m was for damages to the improvements he had made to the property, R175m in respect of the value of the property, and R220m for loss of income.
The city could not be reached for comment on Friday but in March told Times Select that the matter was currently in court so it could not comment.
Adjodah said he was at one point the city promised to pay R30m for the land.
“The city then bought temporary ablution facilities for the residents and it was difficult for me to remove them. I contacted them with the hope that they will help, but it’s been a struggle.”