Usindiso Building inquiry hears evidence from city officials

A Joburg Water official, Siphindile Sikhosana, told the chairperson of the commission, Justice Sisi Khampepe, that the Usindiso building owed the municipality more than R4 million in unpaid water bills.

“The account for the building is in the name of Usindiso Ministries. The account is in arrears of R4.3 million to date. This is an amount that has accumulated since February 2012. A total of R437 000 was paid to the city for water and sanitation from 15 June 2010 to 8 February 2012,“ she said.

An employee of Pikitup, Ernest Mbanu, told the chairperson of the commission on Friday that the city by-laws do not allow employees of the waste management company to enter private buildings in its effort to collect waste, which is why the building was said to be uninhabitable.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the CEO of the Johannesburg Property Company, Helen Botes, told the commission that her department had approached the Johannesburg Social Housing Company (Joshco) to purchase the building from them in 2018.

However, Botes said Joshco was unable to take over the building due to a lack of funds and, as a result, they were unable to make the purchase.

Botes also indicated that the city needed more than R400 million to enable it to take care of the hijacked buildings in the city.

She said it was also a challenge to evict people as the city needed to find alternative accommodation for the tenants.

“We were unable to evict the occupants in order to refurbish the building because, by law, we are required to provide them with alternative accommodation,” she said.

On Wednesday, Botes told the commission that the NGO that leased the building at R499 failed over time to pay for services, resulting in the building being hijacked.

“The NGO failed to pay towards its lease agreement, which included maintenance and paying for services. If we had to renew the lease agreement, they would not have been able to pay the lease because … the NGO was no longer receiving their grants from Social Development. Which means that if they had to do any repairs or maintenance as per the lease agreement, they were not able to do that,” she said.

Botes indicated in her evidence that there was no audit of the building in 2018 by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC).

“No, JPC did not conduct a structural investigation assessment of the building in 2018 or even after 2018. So we did not have a report on the structural integrity of the building.”

She said it was impossible to declare the building unsafe without such a report.

“We can only declare that the building is unsafe through a report… It is only then that we can get an order to demolish the building,” she said.

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