Johannesburg - Unions, political parties and the government weighed in on Tuesday on the recent demolition of houses built on illegally sold land in Lenasia.
The latest demolitions on Monday were condemned in a joint statement by the Gauteng Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), the SA Communist Party and the SA National Civics' Organisation (Sanco).
"We strongly condemn the last round of demolitions, as it takes place in the week that the court will be hearing the urgent application for an interdict," they said.
Cosatu's national office condemned "the heavy-handed and inhumane" demolition of more houses on Monday, despite the process being halted.
"[It left]... women and children stranded in the streets with no shelter and one woman with two children reportedly contemplating suicide," said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) expressed "regret and disappointment" at the most recent demolitions.
"The commission is concerned by the [housing] department's decision to demolish more houses in other parts of Lenasia on Monday, thus raising further tensions and uncertainty in the residents," it said.
The Gauteng ANC said on Tuesday that action needs to be taken against government officials involved in the illegal sale of land.
"In many instances, government officials are implicated [in the sale of land], and we want firm action [taken] against them," said ANC provincial secretary David Makhura.
The Young Communist League of SA (YCLSA) condemned the "silence" of the national human settlements department on the demolitions.
"This is an indication that...[the] department may require a new leadership," it said.
Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said at the launch of a social housing project in Cape Town on Tuesday that the government had to be sensitive to Lenasia residents.
"People were duped and taken advantage of by people who sold them land illegally - government land. It's heartbreaking to see houses being demolished," he said.
The demolition of the houses began on November 8 and 9. The housing department said the land the houses were built on was meant for government housing.
About 50 houses were initially destroyed and there were plans to knock down another 113.
The plots on which the houses were built were apparently fraudulently sold for amounts ranging from R2 500 to R95 000. The buyers were given forged deeds of sale with the department's logo.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) took the issue to court and, on November 12, won an urgent application forcing the department to stop the demolitions for 24-hours. That order was extended for a day.
On November 14, lawyers for the local government and housing department told the court no houses would be demolished until court proceedings began on Friday.
However, on Monday, the Gauteng housing department started breaking down houses in small clusters in the area.
The housing department said the SAHRC's court application did not affect an existing court order granting it permission to demolish the houses in another area.
Cosatu in Gauteng, the SACP and Sanco said the recent demolitions were "a ploy by a coalition of corrupt forces" to undermine the integrity of the SAHRC.
"We further believe that this is a desperate attempt by certain forces and elements to project the image of the ANC in Gauteng... as uncaring, inhuman and insensitive to the working class and the poor," they said.
"We call on the Gauteng housing department to immediately refrain from further demolitions and engage constructively in political discussion, to find a better approach to resolving this problem."
Craven commended the SABC for an expose which showed there were people who "posed" as government or ANC officials to sell the land.
He said this proved that the people who bought the land would not have suspected that the officials were selling it illegally.
"Surely the province [Gauteng] could have found a way to retrieve the money from the residents... without demolishing their houses and throwing them onto the streets."
The SAHRC said it knew that the area of Monday's demolitions was not covered by the court interdict.
"[We] believe that further demolitions will put a cloud over the pending court process around demolitions in the same area," it said.
Makhura said the ANC understood that some residents had innocently purchased land believing the sale was legal.
"The victims need to come forward and expose the criminal syndicates, including government officials who are involved in crime and corruption, so that they can face the full might of the law."
The YCLSA said it was concerned about the "apartheid-style" tactics of the Gauteng government.
"In the same way as the colonial and apartheid regimes did, the [housing] department has renewed its pleasure to bulldoze houses, following an interjection by a court interdict process."
Sexwale said the government had to await the outcome of the SAHRC application before continuing.
"My job is to get to the bottom of what happened there, and law enforcement agencies enjoy our support insofar as bringing all those people [who sold the land] to book."