Call for Public Works to meet its Waterloo

More than 20 Wynberg residents joined a site visit of problem buildings organised by ward councillor Emile Langenhoven. Picture: Janice Matthews

Two derelict and illegally occupied Waterloo Green Road houses owned by the Department of Public Works are a breeding ground for crime and must be demolished, says a petition started by a Wynberg ward councillor.

The problem has dragged on for a decade and worsened with time, say residents.

Ward councillor Emile Langenhoven and the DA’s spokesman on public works, Sello Seitlholo, visited the site on Friday May 19, where Mr Seitlholo said his predecessor, Samantha Graham-Mare, had written to former Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille about the houses and also raised the matter in Parliament, but the department had failed to respond. He said a petition would help to escalate the issue.

“It will put us in a good position to get the department to make a full commitment in Parliament on what it is they intend to do with these particular properties,” Mr Seitlholo said.

“A petition is an incredible tool to actually get a minister or a department in general to actually make commitments live so when we actually do decide to go to court we have got something in hand.”

The petitioners, the community in this case, would need to prepare a background report for the parliamentary public works and infrastructure portfolio committee, he said.

The Department of Public Works would then present its case after which the portfolio committee would consider the two presentations, make recommendations to the department and then send the report to Parliament, he said.

“It gets debated and then gets adopted. Once it is adopted in Parliament, It’s law,” Mr Seitlholo said.

The process could take up to two and a half months, he said.

According to the petition, the Wynberg Campus of Schools has twice tried to either tender for the use of the property or offered to buy it for the benefit of more than 3500 pupils. Residents want this revisited.

Wynberg Boys Junior School principal Cedric Poleman said the schools had put in a tender bid in 2020.

“We went through the process of getting quotations to maintain the land on a monthly basis, to put security in place, to fence it and a whole lot that was all included in that submission.”

An initial lease had been submitted, but then the tender had been withdrawn and the process cancelled, he said.

Public Works had then contacted him saying the schools should apply again and the department would approach National Treasury to have the property “basically put in the custodianship of the schools”, he said. “So I thought we were on the right path.”

But then correspondence between the schools and the department had dried up.

Mr Poleman said the schools would like to use the site for extra parking to ease traffic congestion in Cavan Road, Cavan Close, Ellerslie Road and Seymor Road.

The schools propose adding two entrance gates to improve traffic flow, a security hut, and cameras on the perimeter. School caretakers would look after the site, pruning trees and clearing litter. The schools estimate the project will cost under R500 000 to get off the ground and about R26 000 a month to keep running.

The residents at the site visit all agreed that the schools were the only way to resolve their concerns.

Nic Louw, a resident and architect, said that if the schools had been awarded custodianship, it could have prevented crime rising in the area.

The houses had been allowed to deteriorate to the point that they could not be leased out, he said.

“That is how you end up with this, so it is a double whammy: A, you lose the heritage, B, you create a crime problem.”

Another resident, David Hoffman, said, “Something urgent needs to happen now because I don’t want to be in the same position that I was in 18 months ago. I live across from this and I saw a gangster bleeding out on the corner there last year that had been cut with a panga, partner nearly beaten to death, and I pay rates to live here and be exposed to that.”

Nicki Becker said that it wasn’t enough to simply demolish the houses.

“I think the situation here is actually two-fold. Demolishing them is just creating a nice piece of open land where more people are just going to settle. So we need to demolish then we need to establish what is going to happen after we demolish.”

Petitions are available at the Wynberg library or the Alphen Sub-council offices or email with the subject: “WG petition request”, and either Fawwaz Mowlana or Emile Langenhoven will respond with the petition attached.

Ward councillor Emile Langenhoven and the DA’s spokesman on public works, Sello Seitlholo, visited the site on Friday May 19. Picture: Janice Matthews.