A 2010 presidential project intended to house shackdwellers in the south of Johannesburg is mired in corruption and wholesale land theft, with hundreds of residents cheated out of houses they paid for.
Those who have attempted to get to the bottom of the theft have been threatened and, in one case, kidnapped.
GroundUp spoke to dozens of residents of Thulamntwana, near Orange Farm, who say they paid up to R25,000 to secure housing units in the township, only to find that the units had been sold to other buyers. They have been trying for four years to get their houses or to get their money back, without success.
On a visit to the area in 2010, President Jacob Zuma promised to improve living conditions. He said he was appalled that people still lived “like pigs”. A task team of national, provincial and City of Joburg officials was appointed to fast-track housing.
A 2014 report by Gauteng’s Department of Human Settlements found that the Presidential Project intended for Sweetwaters had been relocated to nearby Thulamntwana. But most of the beneficiaries were neither from Sweetwaters nor from Thulamntwana, and hundreds of houses intended for local residents were sold to people from outside the area, and in some cases sold multiple times.
“There are letters illegally issued on a letterhead of Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council recognising the ‘Bearers’ as residents to be relocated to the Thulamntwana Housing Development, purporting to be from the targeted informal settlements” says the Human Settlements report. The report goes on to say that these illegal letters gave the bearers the impression that they were being relocated to Thulamntwana from surrounding areas.
The report goes on to say that a Soweto couple illegally purchased a house in Thulamntwana from one Juta Maja for R25,000, and confirms that there are other instances of “duplicate allocation of stands.”
Community members say one young man suffering from epilepsy, James Mncwango, was kidnapped in April 2016 because he resisted efforts to remove him from his mother’s home in nearby Finetown. He resurfaced several weeks later and laid criminal charges against the culprits. A few days before his case was to be heard in court, they say, he was kidnapped a second time, and has not been seen since. His mother’s shack was burned after the kidnapping and a new house has been built in its place, given to someone else.
Daniel Sithole of Sebokeng is a driver who saved up money for several years to acquire a property in Thulamntwana. “I met a guy called Juta, who said he was an agent for these houses, who said I could get a house of my own if I paid R25,000,” he says. He says he handed over the money to Juta Maja, who was apparently working for a local ANC woman’s league official, and was shown what purported to be a receipt stamped 21 May 2013 for the purchase of Stand 335 in Sweetwaters.
But he never got the house and his name does not appear on the Johannesburg Department of Housing database as the owner of Stand 335 in Sweetwaters – or of any other stand for that matter.