When an elderly woman pleaded for Grocott’s Mail’s help in her quest for assistance after her home was flooded with sewage, Sinesipho Goqwana found the problem was far more complicated than it first appeared.
In July 2016, Julia Mavikela (77) reached out to Grocott’s Mail asking for help after two sewers simultaneously burst and deposited sewage on her N Street property.
The mother of four, who grows and sells vegetables and raises chickens for a living, said she had been living in filth for about six months before calling Grocott’s Mail and had visited the municipality numerous times to ask them to dig a trench outside her yard to redirect the sewage and prevent it from entering her property – but had received little or no help.
“This affected me and my business because I lost 1 500 chickens and have had to throw away all of my affected seedlings and vegetables. But I am glad that they finally dug the trench,” she said.
Makana Municipality’s Director of Infrastructure and Technical Services, Dali Mlenzana, said while the sewerage pipes needed to be replaced, Mavikela needed to relocate to a new and safer site.
“She illegally built her house under an electric power line and extended her yard, and with the municipal servitude for the sewer pipes built directly through her yard, it is a serious health and safety hazard for her to be living there,” Mlenzana said.
Mlenzana also said that since N Street was an infill area, the municipality was in the process of relocating N Street residents in a similar situation to that of Mavikela to new sites in J Street.
“The plan is to build them RDP houses in J Street where they will have access to clean water and proper sanitation,” Mlenzana said. Wikipedia’s definition of an infill site is “the use of land within a built-up area for further construction, especially as part of a community redevelopment or growth management programme or as part of smart growth”.
Mavikela, who had lived in N Street for more than 15 years expressed her unhappiness, saying she didn’t want to move from where she was because as an unemployed, single mother she’d had to work hard to build her house.
“Instead of wanting us to move, the municipality should just build us proper toilets and get rid of the bucket system,” she said.
A legal opinion
According to a legal expert who spoke on condition of anonymity, under the law of prescription, an illegal squatter can earn rights to property or land if they have lived there for a minimum of 10 years without an eviction or vacation notice of any kind.
Dictionary.com defines prescription as “The role that the passage of time plays in the making and ending of certain rights.
“A way to acquire an easement on or in real property belonging to another by occupying it continuously for a prescribed period of time.”
The legal expert said the municipality had a constitutional duty to ensure that people that lived within their borders were safe from hazardous and toxic substances that posed a great danger to their lives; therefore they would not knowingly allow people to live under dangerous circumstances.
“If the municipality or Eskom were granted servitude to instal their cables and pipes there, then it’s clear that land use by the squatter is illegal and that cannot be dealt with under the law of prescription,” the expert said.
An RDP house built
Makana Municipality’s senior housing officer, Kaiser Nxamleko, issued Grocott’s Mail with a statement confirming that their records stated that back in 2005, the housing department had indeed given Mavikela an RDP house in Extension 9.
However, they later discovered that there was another woman with the exact same name as Mavikela in their records.
On August 16 2016,the department then sent one of their officials to the said RDP house to investigate the matter – only to find that it was being occupied by a Makana employee.
“The Makana employee alleges that his father, Mr Jwayiza bought the house from Ms Mavikela who resides in N Street,” Nxamleko stated.
Nxamleko further stated that their official had gone to Mavikela’s house in N Street to request a copy of her ID document for verification purposes, but she had refused to co-operate.
“I am told that she was hostile and totally refused to give us a copy of her ID book and also refused to answer any questions,” Nxamleko said.
Refused to co-operate
Grocott’s Mail found Mr Jwayiza, who confirmed that he had bought the house from Mavikela. Jwayiza refused to give his first name.
“I bought it when the house was still being built and she sold it to me for R15 000, including the title deed,” Jwayiza said.
However, according to Jwayiza,the title deed is still in Mavikela’s possession and although he had paid for it, she refused to hand it to him.
“Every time I go to her asking for the title deed we always end up arguing, she doesn’t want to give it to me,” he said.
Mavikela denied having or selling an RDP house and said the house had at first initially belonged to her late daughter and she never had anything to do with it.
“My late daughter is the one who received and sold an RDP house in Extension 9 not me. I never received any money from anyone regarding an RDP house!” she said.
In conclusion, the housing department decided that because Mavikela was refusing to co-operate with them, they would close the matter indefinitely.
“If we were to obtain the complainant’s ID book then we would have urgently emailed the Provincial Department of Housing for verification as to whether she did receive the RDP house or not,” Nxamleko said.
Jwayiza said he would like to renovate the house, but since he did not have the title deed in his possession, he found it difficult to do so.
“Every time I go to her house to ask for the title deed we always end up in an argument. She blatantly refuses to hand it to me,” Jwayiza said.
Jwayiza said he had not signed any formal documentation with Mavikela, nor did he have proof of payment for the house in question.
On 20 August 2016, a lawyer who spoke to Grocottʼs Mail on condition of anonymity said since this was an illegal transaction and since Jwayiza had no proof of purchase/transaction or a title deed, the chances of his case succeeding in court were very slim.
“We deal with a lot of similar cases here and what we normally do is call both people and ask for the ʼsellerʼ to hand over the title deed. If he/she is not willing to participate then we ask them to give back the money they received for the house,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer said it became really difficult for them to compel the other party to hand over the title deed if there was no written agreement between them.
“In this case, if Mr Jwayiza were to be given back the money then he might get interest if he renovated the house, or might not get interest based on how they negotiate. Mrs Mavikela is not compelled or bound by anything,” he said.