Canal a crime hot spot

KAREN WATKINS

Residents living along a canal in Wynberg are frustrated by criminals who they say use it as an escape route as well as for drug dealing and sex work.

The canal, which surfaces in Maynardville Park, leads through Oak Avenue and Devonshire Road, where it is open to birds.

At the junction of Vriedenhof, the canal passes beneath the road and into a narrow high-walled section which stretches through this Wynberg suburb, parallel to the Main Road and into Constantia Main Road. And here lies the problem. People living adjacent to the canal, behind high walls, topped with electric fencing, cameras and barbed wire, say they are living in fear.

To highlight these concerns, they formed Wynberg Sector 1 Neighbourhood Watch one year ago and now members frequently conduct patrols down the canal in response to a number of properties which they say had been entered through the canal.

Resident Julian Emdon produced a video of these gumboot-clad patrollers and posted it on YouTube.

Herman Kotze says he has sent numerous emails to ward councillor, Liz Brunette and claims she has done little to help. He called the Bulletin.

Mr Kotze believes the canal is a major contributor to crime. He claims his home has been burgled 14 times since 2010, the most recent was last month. He has witnessed people climbing out of the canal with bulging backpacks having seen them enter earlier with nothing. At an onsite afternoon meeting with the, Bulletin on Thursday April 14, almost 20 people who live alongside the canal attended, each homeowner said their homes had been broken into numerous times.

Langley Road resident, Judy Moffett, says she arrived home one day to find someone hiding in her front room.

However, Lieutenant Ntombi Nqunqeka, spokesperson for Wynberg Police, said the canal is not identified as a hot spot for criminal activities and they have no records of cases opened regarding break-ins of houses along the canal.

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Alastair Shiell, who lives at the junction of Oak Avenue and Vriedendal, said his home has been broken into four times, the most recent was six months ago when he erected a high electrified fence. He said the thieves don’t take much but the damage is costly. He provided the case number to the most recent break-in.

Mr Kotze said Ms Brunette told him last year that she would have the canal closed up but her answer is that residents are responsible for securing their properties. “Will it take a murder or for someone to drown before something is done,” said a desperate Mr Kotze.

Eugene Dreyer, chairman of the neighbourhood watch, said to prevent access to the canal would mean installing an estimated 400m of fencing between, most of it on Oak and Devonshire roads.

Ms Brunette said pending interventions through available budget from the local roads and stormwater depot or through ward allocation funding in 2016/17 include:

BLOB An upgrade of the Vriedenhof Road bridge, fencing and rails;

BLOB Replacing fencing along Oak Avenue and Devonshire Road;

BLOB Investigating enclosing the short section of the exposed canal on the south side of Sherard Square Road;

BLOB Replacing the existing fencing with palisade fencing across the bridge between property boundary walls on the north side of Sherard Square;

BLOB For stormwater gutters and drains in Oak Avenue and Devonshire Road to be cleaned regularly; and

BLOB For the City’s Invasive Species Unit to remove invasive vegetation growing next to the canal.

Ms Brunette explained that when a canal runs through private property and it is not underground, so the roads and stormwater department isresponsible for cleaning it while the property owner is responsible for securing their premises.

She said fencing and walls must be approved via the Land Use Planning Department and plans must be submitted to Building Development. Palisade fencing is preferred because brick walls constructed along the canal place an additional load on canal walls and could lead to premature failure.

Langley Road resident Nancy Krisch said a few weeks ago she heard screams and saw a homeless man beating his partner.

Kate Cluer of the Wynberg Ratepayers’ and Residents Association (WRRA) said numerous meetings have been held with stakeholders, including Wynberg Police. She said it is used as access and escape route for criminals and also by drug traffickers and users, sex workers and vagrants.

Driving to Oak Avenue, Ms Cluer pointed to the bridge where she said people congregate and engage in drug use and sex work.

Mr Dreyer said neighbourhood watch patrollers frequently come across people in the canal. “It’s extremely dangerous as the canal can fill up quickly, even with light rain. Someone sleeping in the canal could easily drown and it’s unsanitary as it becomes an open air sewer when dry,” said Mr Dreyer.

He is also concerned because debris such as foam mattresses, clothing, bags and other stuff left by those living in the canal compromises its ability to transport stormwater through the neighbourhood.

“In November 2013 the canal overflowed and a number of houses were flooded and property was damaged. The speed with which the canal overflowed and once again emptied would seem to indicate debris had caused a blockage,” said Mr Dreyer.

Asked if the City has a record of flooding, Ms Brunette said the most recent one took place in November 2013. Ms Brunette said flooding must be addressed through the cleaning of stormwater gutters and inlets and this needs to be done regularly by the Transport for Cape Town’s maintenance programme.

Lieutenant Nqunqeka said their records do not reflect any floods or blockages and they are not aware of any drug users or sex work that is taking place in the canal.

Mr Dreyer said the canal serves as an underground pathway through the neighbourhood and because it is below ground level it is easy to miss a person in it while patrolling.

He said it is a perfect vantage point for criminals to observe the movements of residents and then break in through a barrier and into a home at their leisure.

Cephas Pfende who recently moved into a house alongside the canal in Vriedenhof Road said hearing splashing he went to investigate and saw people testing to see if his electric fence is live. He regular smells spliffs wafting through his garden and sees people watching their clothes and themselves in the canal. “It’s a thoroughfare for thieves and easy getaway to Plumstead,” he said.

Mr Dreyer said Ms Brunette has been out to look into the issue and council workers do clean the canal and conduct maintenance on the fences between the roads, which are frequently cut, but crime continues.

Ms Brunette confirmed a site meeting on February 10 last year at the canal in Oak, Devonshire and Vriedenhof roads attended by officials from Transport for Cape Town’s local roads and stormwater depot, Law Enforcement and Land Use Inspection. They inspected access to the canal via the roads that cross the canal between Vriedenhof Road and Sherard Square.

Mr Dreyer said a WRRA member has started the arduous task of contacting those living adjacent to the canal to seek support for the project.

Ms Brunette said there is a proposal to upgrade the retention ponds in Maynardville Park. Once implemented this would increase the stormwater attenuation capacity thereby further reducing or mitigating the risk of flooding downstream. Implementation is also subject to budget availability.

Athol Swanson, the manager of the Wynberg Improvement District (WID), said they are aware that activities occur in the canal between Piers and Vriedenhof Road and although out of the WID area they do assist the Wynberg Law Enforcement officers when requested.

Mr Swanson said residents should report incidents to the City when they occur and to the Wynberg Police if it is a criminal matter.

The video may be of interest to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGeKckOVowY