The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) has launched a massive crackdown on hijacked buildings and revealed that 1 260 government-owned buildings have been flagged as being illegally occupied.
The department has also been tasked with undertaking a government-wide investigation into hijacked buildings in the country’s metros and will seek ways to rejuvenate the central business districts (CBDs) of all the cities in metros and municipalities.
Read: Hijacked Joburg building fire: Survivors tell their stories
This follows an inter-ministerial committee meeting on the devastating fire in a hijacked state building in Marshalltown in Johannesburg last week, that resulted in the deaths of 76 people.
Commenting on the tragedy at the weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged authorities to enforce regulations preventing city residents from unlawfully occupying apartment blocks.
“Local government has to enforce the laws,” Reuters reported Ramaphosa as saying at a governing African National Congress party event.
Ramaphosa also indicated he has asked government ministers to look into ways of enforcing laws without violating people’s rights.
Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Sihle Zikalala is to lead the task of identifying all hijacked buildings in the country as well as indicating what should be done with all these properties.
The DPWI said on Sunday that as the department responsible for state property management, it was already in the process of identifying misappropriated state properties within its own asset register.
“Out of 29 000 buildings in the department’s asset register throughout the country, the department has embarked on a process to recover some 1 260 properties that have been flagged as being illegally occupied under Operation Bring Back Program,” it said.
The DPWI said the programme includes:
Recovery of stolen or illegally-transferred properties and hijacked buildings.
Regularisation of occupancy in government properties due to legacy housing policies.
Further investigation and identification of more properties that are illegally occupied.
The department said it launched “Operation Bring Back” to operationalise investigations and the recovery of those assets that are illegally occupied or stolen.
It said it will now intensify this operation in all metros and municipalities in the country.
“Each metro or municipality will have to indicate how many properties it has on its asset register, the state of those assets, what they are used for and its current status.
“Depending on the status of those properties, the Ministry of Public Works and Infrastructure will recommend what should be done [with them],” it said.
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The department added that as part of ‘Operation Bring Back’, a nationwide call will be made for individuals and institutions to take advantage of an amnesty and regularise their occupation of properties in line with applicable laws of the country.
It said these hijacked properties could be sold to the individuals concerned, leased or used as rental stock.
The department said this intervention by the Ministry of Public Works and Infrastructure will include a forensic investigation of the asset register and the identification of illegally-occupied properties without amnesty and “may lead to the institution of criminal prosecutions and or expropriation of unclaimed properties”.
“The department will exhaust all means to identify the owners of properties within municipalities and, in cases of buildings where owners have absconded or are not forthcoming, these will be subjected to expropriation by the state in line with the Expropriation Act.
“The Ministry of Public Works is legally empowered to expropriate any property for public good in terms of the Expropriation Act,” it said.
The department added that it has recognised the importance of partnering with the private sector and acknowledged that the fiscus will not be able carry out the refurbishment, maintenance and safeguarding of investments of this nature.
It said the DPWI has therefore embarked on a programme called ‘Refurbish, Operate and Transfer programme’ that will see government identifying buildings and allowing the private sector to invest in renovations or refurbishments of those buildings and lease them back to government over a significant period – up to 25 years – with the property remaining a state-owned facility.
The department said it will as a matter of urgency commission multi-disciplinary built environment consultants to investigate the structural, civil, building, electrical, mechanical and safety integrity of the identified buildings and make recommendations on how to rejuvenate the CBDs of all cities.