LENASIA, South Africa – Bulldozers moved in on a South African town Friday, destroying homes that officials said were constructed on illegally sold land, despite efforts by protesters to stop the demolitions.
A woman and her baby were removed from their home before police and bulldozers smashed it to pieces, witnesses said. Three bulldozers moved in on another sturdy brick house with an orange tile roof down the street and it was broken down in only 20 minutes. The line of armored vehicles, police vehicles and bulldozers then made its way to another part of the extension 13 area of Lenasia, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Johannesburg.
The housing department of the province of Gauteng said it demolished 14 houses on Friday in Lenasia. The department said it had identified 113 houses in the area that it said were illegally built on land intended for government houses.
"Investigations by the department's anti-fraud and corruption unit revealed that fraudsters sold several stands (for amounts) ranging from 2,500 rand ($285) to 95,000 rand ($10,860) and issued buyers with fraudulent deeds of sale which bore the department's official logo," it said in a statement.
Hundreds gathered to watch the destruction on streets littered with signs of protest, including the remains of burned tires and makeshift barricades of bricks and logs. Thirty-seven houses had been demolished Thursday and police fired stun grenades early Friday to break up protests.
"They knocked down the wall protecting my house today, and they say they will come back later to destroy it all," said 25-year-old Sfiso who has been living in the neighborhood for four years. He gave only his first name for fear of his safety.
Sfiso said that he was given a seven-day notice, but didn't know the home he built would be destroyed.
"I will have to sleep on the street," he said.
His friends and neighbors, 35-year-old Thulani and 40-year-old John, said that they had been showing up to court for years in the hopes that they could keep their homes and land. They said last year they were told to stop going.
"We are not saying we want to live for free, but they should have worked out a deal with us so we could properly purchase our homes and land," Thulani said, also only giving his first name.
Provincial spokesman Motsamai Motlhaolwa said residents were told not to build houses on the land in 2006 and that a court order was obtained to stop them from building, but a syndicate had convinced them otherwise, according to the South African Press Association.
He said three members of the syndicate were arrested for fraud in 2009 and had since been jailed.
"They forged head of department's signature and used the department's letterhead," he said.
Police spokesman Kay Makhubele said Friday that residents should lay charges if they have evidence of corruption and their homes were destroyed.
Motlhaolwa said the demolitions were done for the day and officials would come back after making further arrangements with police.
Many of the residents blamed the government for the destruction of their homes, and said they would be back out on the streets.
"Yesterday, a child came back from school, she saw the house was down and she cried. What kind of human being can do that to your own black person. We voted for ANC (African National Congress). Is that what we voted for?" said resident James Baloyi.
Associated Press senior producer Ed Brown in Johannesburg contributed to this report.