Durban – A counterfeit clothing manufacturing sweatshop was uncovered by police during a raid on problem buildings in the Durban city centre last night.
Bad buildings used for illegal accommodation were inspected by police and city officials as part of a plan to clean up the city.
Problem buildings include those which are overcrowded, hijacked by slum lords or illegally occupied.
Hoosen Moolla, head of the city’s Inner-Thekwini Regeneration and Urban Management Programme (iTrump), was accompanied by police and city officials from each department.
At the Habibiah Building in Bertha Mkhize Street, police found materials of elastic bands strewn in the passage. On closer inspection police found a room with 22 sewing machines and workers sewing clothing. A container of ink was found near a steel tray with stencilled writing of Jockey engraved on it. The workers would run the elastic over the stencil and leave it to dry. "This is the positive side of the raids. Problem buildings attract criminal elements. These raids disrupt their activities. Customs and the labour department will be notified of the activities,"Moolla said.
In Woodford Road officials slapped the owner of a building for non-compliance with water, electricity and having no fire escape. Forty-one rooms packed two floors with rental per month ranging from R1800 to R2500.
At the Station Road shelter a bad smell from blocked drains greeted officials. Moolla said the building was in a poor state and owned by a wealthy businessman and prominent Durban family. Approximately fifty rooms packed the upper floors. Downstairs tenants queued to fill water in bottles and buckets from a tap. Moolla said they were investigating if the water was connected illegally.
On Umgeni Road at a place called Chiremba an open plan room was crammed with 15 rooms with at least three people sharing each room.
"There is only one toilet and no bathing facility. This is exploitation. There could be illegal electricity connections here as well, "Moolla said.
A city-owned building on Epsom Road had makeshift rooms with cardboard and planks in precarious positions. A sign at the entrance said welcome to the dark city. Moolla said it was in a terrible condition and most of the occupants were moved to Cornubia previously. A guard has been placed to monitor the number of people leaving and entering.
A building on Dr Yusuf Dadoo was also raided. Moolla said illegal electricity connections were noted. Student accommodation on Bertha Mkhize Road could not be accessed but Moolla said the owner has been fined several times.
Queen Lodge on Joe Slovo Street was also listed for poor living conditions and compliance issues including fire escape and equipment not in order. The owner was asked to submit plans for the premises and to meet an official from the development planning environment management unit
In all the raids, people were searched. Most were from other African countries. Their documentation to live in the country was checked. Most accommodation facilities had a lack of ventilation.
Moolla said the building owners were fined heavily for non-compliance with by-laws, including those relating to fire safety, and in terms of the National Building Regulations, and health and safety.
The Problem Building By-law aims to identify, control and rehabilitate derelict buildings in the city. Fines range from R1 500 to R500 000, and the city has about 90 buildings on its list “As a result of ITrump’s intervention and prosecutions over the years, some of the owners have heeded our requests,” Moolla said.