Instances of organised syndicates invading private property are on the rise, and the South African Police Service (SAPS) seemingly can’t address property hijacking adequately. That’s according to legal expert Fiona Worwood.
Speaking during a panel discussion on Salaamedia, Worwood explained that property hijacking had been an ongoing issue in the Pretoria and Johannesburg central business districts (CBDs) for years. However, she noted, the property hijacking trend has reached affluent suburbs such as Sandton, Gauteng.
Meanwhile, Attorney Eesa Ahmed stated that another related issue; land invasion, has also plagued areas like Lenasia, south of Johannesburg. The issue, according to Worwood, is that SAPS is unable to adequately address property hijacking.
Property hijacking in the CBD
Property hijacking in the Johannesburg CBD has been a well-known issue for several years. The issue prompted a campaign by the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) to return illegally-occupied properties to their lawful owners.
Since February 2021, CoJ’s Group Forensic and Investigation Services (GFIS) successfully returned 47 hijacked properties. The unit had registered 1 772 complaints of problem properties within the City. The most complaints were received in the south of Johannesburg.
“This is a prevalent issue,” said Worwood, adding that “previously, it was [the] Pretoria CBD and Joburg CBD. It is now more and more in your affluent areas – Sandton, Parkmoor, Northcliff. It’s not just limited to your CBD areas; it’s becoming more and more prevalent in residential areas.”
She said standalone and vacant houses have become targets of property hijacking, whereby syndicates identify a property and monitor activity before illegally placing tenants on the premises. This often occurs when property owners have left the home unattended for lengthy periods of time.
“It appears that SAPS and our State is not able to really adequately address the concerns and this issue,” said Worwood.
The challenges occur due to alleged cooperation between police personnel and property hijacking syndicates, and when syndicates exploit legal loopholes in the system.
Land and property ownership has been a contentious issue in post-apartheid South Africa. While the government attempts to solve the issue of landlessness and dispossession through land reform policies, populist politicians have encouraged land grabs to hasten the process.
This has caused protracted hassle for landowners who have had to deal with increasing instances of land invasion. This has caused trouble not only for owners, but nearby settlements which face frequent power cuts due to illegal connections.
Ahmed pointed out that Lenasia and Roshnee have been affected by this form of property hijacking.
In one instance, as Ahmed explained, “there was a large portion of land that was invaded whereby people went there, they demarcated stands and while they were in the process of doing their earthworks and demarcating stands we approached the High Court on an urgent basis and interdicted them from constructing shacks.”
Ahmed also dealt with another incident in Lenasia in which people illegally occupied an incomplete residential development comprising 84 units.
“They hijacked the property and they started occupying those units and they also started selling units to the general public,” he said.
Thus ensued a legal battle that saw the successful return of the property to the owner. However, victory is not always on the side of the owner. Other instances of property hijacking have often turned nightmarish for other victims as legal considerations, such as the wellbeing of occupants, often prolong the cases for years.