Durban’s slum building nightmare. Part three: Slumming it

The final parts of a two-week series on slum buildings in Durban. These ran in the Sunday Tribune on July 24, 2011.

The original story, as it appeared in the Sunday Tribune on July 24, 2011, page 11.

SLUMMING IT

Mitchell Harper and Matthew Savides witness living conditions in Durban’s slum buildings when they join the Bad Buildings Special Task Team on a series of raids

EThekwini Municipality and police officials uncovered a new slum building last week after a series of raids in the Durban CBD.

Until the operation on Thursday night, officials were unaware that 15 Bertha Mkhize (Victoria) Street had been converted into illegal accommodation. Now they will begin tracing the owner and the management agent to charge them for various by-law contraventions.

The uncovering of this latest slum building points towards a growing problem facing the city. Hoosen Moolla, the head of the Inner City Thekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme (iTrump), says there are about 60 of these buildings in Durban – and those are just the ones they know about.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Tribune, Moolla said they sometimes battled to identify bad buildings because their unit was small.

“eThekwini is a big municipality. We don’t have the resources to know what is going on in every building,” he said.

But with operations like the one that took place this week, Moolla believes that officials can make headway with the problem.

On Thursday night, iTrump, metro police, the SAPS and other city departments raided nine buildings in the CBD, checking for by-law infringements, illegal electricity connections, illegal immigrants and drugs and other substances.

Moolla said 11 foreigners were arrested for not having documents that showed them to be legally in the country. Also, two men were arrested for making, copying and possessing illegal DVDs. Most of these were pornographic. Their equipment was also seized. Narcotics experts also charged and arrested one man for possession of dagga.

PICTURE: SBUSISO NDLOVU. Electricity Department officials check for illegal connection during raids on slum buildings last week. Several illegal connections were found.

“There was also a number of fire regulations that were contravened, as well as building regulation contraventions. We also found a large number of illegal electricity connections,” Moolla said.

The raids started at about 7pm and ended shortly after midnight.

Apart from these contraventions, officers from the specialised Bad Buildings Special Task Team served notice on one of the most prominent letting agents, Dawood Clifford, for continued by-law infringements at 275 Dr Yusuf Dadoo (Grey) Street.

This building has previously been cited as one of those with the most contraventions. The officials also tried to serve notice on Ahmed Kazi, the owner of the building. However, a woman at his Overport home said that he was away in Cape Town.

Moolla said the raids were part of ongoing “disruption operations”.

“If we didn’t do things like this, the landlords and letting agents would think they had the upper hand. It would create no-go areas for us. It would create a situation as you see in Hillbrow (Joburg).

“We do this so the criminals don’t get the upper hand on us. We show that we are in control,” he said outside the Al-Ibrahim Towers at 85/87 Bertha Mkhize Street, which is also managed by Clifford and owned by Kazi. This was one of the buildings targeted.

An estimated 12 000 people live in slum buildings across the city.

PICTURE: SBUSISO NDLOVU.

At one of the buildings, a pot was boiling over just centimetres away from a plug-point in the communal kitchen. An over-flowing rubbish bin was just metres from the kitchen entrance.

Water was pooled on the floor and a number of young children and toddlers ran around unattended. In another building, the stairway smelled of faeces while in one of the rooms, three men shared a double bed. That room cost R1 100 a month to rent. Other cubicles, just 3m wide, had as many as four people sleeping in them. Some of the buildings have more than 350 of these cubicles.

“It’s easy to see how a fire can start and just spread,” said Captain Shalendra Singh, of the task team, as he walked through one of the buildings. But he was more concerned about the children.

“Many of the children in these buildings don’t go to school and are often without supervision. Anything could happen to these children,” he said.

The Bad Buildings Special Task Team was established in January by Bheki Mkhize, the deputy city manager for safety and security. It was set up to handle all operations, specialist investigations and the profiling of so-called “bad buildings” in the city.

All of its members have post-graduate qualifications, including in the fields of law, policing, and human behavioural and social sciences. It is headed by Advocate Aubrey Mthethwa.

The unit works with the SAPS, Sars and other city departments to combat the problem of bad buildings.

CITY’S BAD BUILDINGS HEADACHE

The solution to Durban’s “bad buildings” problem seems simple: just shut them down, evict the residents and board up the doors. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

According to the Organisation of Civic Rights, there are 12 000 people living in illegal accommodation across the city. If they were to be evicted, they would be living on the streets, creating an even bigger headache for city officials.

PICTURE: SBUSISO NDLOVU

“We can’t just go in and shut up shop. You just can’t put people out in the street,” said Hoosen Moolla, iTrump head.

Speaking after a series of raids on buildings in the city centre on Thursday night, Moolla added: “There is no overnight solution. Housing shortages are already a problem and this would make it worse. It’s a very difficult situation with social implications.”

Sayed Iqbal Mohammed of the Organisation of Civic Rights agrees.

“There has to be a well-thought-out plan. It can’t be a knee-jerk reaction. I know the city has to deal with these unscrupulous landlords, but going in heavy-handedly is not the way to do it. The residents, especially foreigners, are petrified when the police go in. We have to involve the tenants.”

Moolla believes housing shortages mean there is a place for accommodation facilities in the city – but they have to be up to standard.

“There is an opportunity for people to provide residential accommodation, but the buildings must be compliant with regulations and bylaws. They must be safe, they must have enough toilets. And the owners could still make money,” Moolla said.

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