Joburg crackdown: Jail cells bursting with migrants

By Khaya Koko | IOL |

Johannesburg – Children playing in filth amid a stomach-churning pungent smell that greets you from the entrance, while women stand and cook food in an unhygienic environment.

Metro police and SAPS officers raided and searched Remington House in Jeppe Street in the Joburg CBD yesterday. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

This was the nauseating setting found by The Star inside one of Joburg’s notorious hijacked buildings raided by the City of Joburg on Tuesday, in the continuation of its promise to crack down on dilapidated properties in the inner city.

This time, the raid occurred at Remington House in Jeppe Street in the Joburg CBD – the same street where the derelict Cape York building caught fire earlier this month, after which residents had to be relocated to Wembley Stadium in Turffontein.

So pungent was the smell inside Remington House that the team conducting the raid had to wear masks.

More than 100 people have been arrested in this month’s raids, according to Lucky Sindane, Joburg’s director of forensic and investigation services.

Sindane told The Star that the arrests of mostly undocumented foreigners were proving troublesome for the Department of Home Affairs to handle.

Sindane said cells inside Joburg’s police stations were too overcrowded to accommodate any more people.

The Joburg raids include joint operations by the city and its law-enforcement officials, the SAPS and Home Affairs.

“Home Affairs officials indicated that they could not assist us to arrest more undocumented foreigners today after we detained more than 100 in the past two crackdowns,” said Sindane.

“Those who were arrested during the past raids have still to be transported to Lindela (Repatriation Centre).”

“Today, the Home Affairs officials who are helping us with our programme are busy transporting people to Lindela,” he explained.

“All the cells are packed at Johannesburg Central, Brixton and Hillbrow police stations. Home Affairs told us that we can’t arrest any more undocumented foreigners because there is no space inside the police stations around Joburg to keep them.”

Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba gave reasons for the city’s crackdown on dilapidated properties, asserting that “hijacked buildings are a major challenge in our inner city, with our people living in deplorable conditions and being abused by slumlords”.

Victoria Rammala, the city’s director for property hijackings investigation, told The Star that another challenge for the city was the massive amounts of money it was losing due to the illegal electricity connections in these hijacked buildings.

She said that Remington House, which was resplendent in electrical light on Tuesday, also had an illegal connection as the city had previously undertaken a level 3 disconnection where the electric cable is removed.

“It is a lot of money that we lose as a city from illegal connections – I can’t estimate the amount because I’m not necessarily dealing with it.”

“But I do believe that it is costing the city a lot of money because most of the properties that are hijacked are not paying any money to the city for services.”

“So, the consumption is basically free,” she said.

Joburg’s Social Development Department, Rammala added, also takes part in these raids in order to record the names of people residing there so that when the city evicts illegal occupants, they know who to find alternative accommodation for.

“But it is a huge challenge to relocate people.”

“However, we are finalising a plan where the city will be acquiring properties for redevelopment to come up with low-cost housing.”

“Some of the properties will be redeveloped by the city, and others will be given to the private sector to assist with terms and conditions, which the mayor will indicate,” Rammala pointed out.