Johannesburg’s City Council has set up a special investigating unit comprising members of the Gauteng Hawks, officials from the National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Revenue Service and the city council are working to reclaim buildings effectively stolen from their owners.
The 2 700 hijacked properties are all in Johannesburg’s inner-city region. William Pudkabekwa, head of the special investigation task team says that he is confident that the hijacking of buildings will come to an end very soon.
The city has launched Operation Ziveze that will see 120 buildings being reclaimed. Casual workers will be used to register residents living in those buildings and then technical teams will assess which of the many council by-laws are being broken.
The council will attempt to provide alternative accommodation to residents in hijacked buildings so that these properties can be repaired properly and then legitimately leased to residents.
Pudkabekwa says the Gauteng Hawks have been tasked with arresting building hijackers and already four properties have been raided and reclaimed. He says that two attorneys have also been arrested for their roles in hijacking buildings from the rightful owners.
Apparently building hijackers work with corrupt council officials and use forged documents to convince residents that they have bought the buildings and are entitled to claim rent from them. In some cases, the title deeds for the property are fraudulently altered.
Pudkabekwa says that in some instances hijackers are provided with information about buildings in trust funds or deceased estates and then they move into the building, claiming to have bought it prior to the estate being wound up, and simply start collecting the rents.
Syndicate members have even produce false documents purporting to have bought the buildings at an auction and then demanding that the existing residents pay them immediately.
Apparently many of the owners of buildings in Johannesburg do not know that their buildings have been hijacked because, often, they have abandoned them anyway.
He says that in the case of individual houses, many of the residents are visited at night and warned that the rates and taxes are in arrears and claim that the property has been attached and sold.
Most of these residents are elderly people who fear reprisals from these hijackers and promptly leave the premises allowing hijackers to rent the home to new tenants.
Pudkabekwa says that the syndicates have attorneys, agents, Deeds Office staff and police officials on their payrolls to assist with the fraudulent documentation or the illegal evictions.