Senior journalist
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Hitmen hijack government buildings in Pietermaritzburg

By Chris Ndaliso

Apartments built to house government employees and some houses built for provincial government ministers have been hijacked by armed hitmen, who are refusing to vacate the properties.

One of the abandoned buildings on Chief Albert Luthuli Street.
One of the abandoned buildings on Chief Albert Luthuli Street. PHOTO: NWABISO DLAMINI

Illegally occupied Department of Public Works properties are breeding grounds for drug use, prostitution and other illegal activities around Pietermaritzburg, the department’s portfolio committee heard recently.

During a committee meeting held at the old legislative precinct in Ulundi, the committee heard how the department’s HOD, Siboniso Majola, was threatened by an alleged hitman when he tried to convince him to vacate a flat he was illegally occupying.

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Committee members heard that apartments built to house government employees and some houses built for provincial government ministers have been hijacked by armed hitmen, who are refusing to vacate the properties.

Committee chairperson, Makhosazane Zungu, said they were aware that there were many “hijacked” properties, including those in Ulundi.

She said there are pieces of land which are also illegally occupied around the province.

This issue was indeed raised in the recent portfolio committee meeting and we have taken a resolution that the MEC, working with the provincial police must, in six months, make sure that those units in Ulundi are vacated. We are being generous because, by law, people are given only three months to vacate illegally occupied housing units. We have made a request for the department to present to the committee a list of all the buildings and land that are illegally occupied or derelict so that a plan of action is formulated based on what we know. We believe that there are more than 1 400 properties, including pieces of land, belonging to the department.

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She said Majola told the committee how he was intimidated by one of the alleged hitmen.

He told the committee that he went to the old legislative complex in Ulundi to [tell] some of the illegal occupants that they needed to vacate the flats. One of the illegal occupants pulled out two firearms, placed them on the table and said ‘yes Mr Majola, we can talk now’. The HOD said he was terrified.

Majola could not be reached for comment.

Zungu said it was concerning to have hijacked buildings and less space to accommodate drug addicts who need rehabilitation.

She said the requested list [of illegally occupied properties] was not made available at the recent meeting.

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The list will enable the committee to make informed recommendations on what should be done about the properties.

Zungu told The Witness recently:

These illegally occupied buildings are a contributing factor to the current deplorable state of Msunduzi and Umgungundlovu District in general. It is not only alleged hitmen in the north of the province that occupy our buildings. Foreign nationals also occupy these buildings illegally and these occupations lead to drug use, prostitution and other illegal activities. These, in turn, chase investors away. I have recently walked past the post office in town and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Drug addicts were lying around in the area, while some were defecating in the same area.

Committee member, Sthembiso Mshengu, said he was shocked at the derelict state of provincial government flats and some ministerial houses in Ulundi, adding that the complex is so neglected that it is still emblazoned with the coat-of-arms of the old KwaZulu-Natal government.

Department spokesperson, Mlungisi Khumalo, said the department is expected to urgently attend to this matter in consultation with the SAPS and ensure finality within the next six months.

Due to the sensitivity and complexity of the matter, the department, at this stage, is not in a position to share the list of the affected facilities.

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The IFP has blamed the provincial government for the state of the Ulundi establishment. IFP chief whip in the KZN Legislature, Blessed Gwala, said it was an ill-informed decision to “abandon” the Ulundi legislature precinct.

When the current government decided to relocate to the colonial buildings in Pietermaritzburg, it was for political reasons and there was no plan in place for the already existing government village in Ulundi. Criminals are now taking advantage of the village at the taxpayers’ expense.

DA spokesperson on Public Works, Marlaine Nair (MPL), was not surprised by the Ulundi invasion and said illegal occupation of land, empty flats and houses was taking place across the province, without any consequences.

We are constantly told by officials how dangerous it is on the ground and how they are at risk of losing their lives when they try to intervene. This is the reason why we have called on the MEC [Dr Mahlaba] to be present at meetings and intervene in these crucial matters.