Cracking down on Wynberg rot

Ebor Road Wynberg with Grand Central in the background.

Ward councillor Emile Langenhoven has vowed to rid Wynberg CBD of its slumlords.

At the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association annual general meeting on Thursday April 7 he said he would call out the owners of buildings who had let their properties rot and turned a profit in doing so.

A prominent gang leader and drug dealer and another man were collecting R3 000 per month for tiny rooms, he claimed.

“There are tenants living with no electricity, sewage, water and ventilation. The properties are a fire hazard. If anything happens in those buildings, it will be a humanitarian disaster,” said Mr Langenhoven.

He described one block, Grand Central, as a “hotbed” where occupants were sleeping in shifts and the overcrowding was straining infrastructure causing sewage to flow through Ebor Road.

The City’s problem building unit was working with the Wynberg Improvement District and the Mayoral Urban Regeneration Project (MURP) and had prioritised 25 properties to begin with, Mr Langenhoven said.

In a 2018 walkabout with mayor Dan Plato, then ward councillor Liz Brunette said municipal arrears for the Uli Heydt property alone had run into millions of rand. She had warned of Wynberg’s downward spiral since she became ward councillor in 2011 (“Wynberg walkabout with mayor”, March 18, 2021).

At the AGM, residents asked for the names of the problem buildings, but Mr Langenhoven said he could not divulge them. However, he did mention the Uli Heydt and Jonathan Katz buildings in Ebor Road and Grand Central, part-owned by the Leisure Group.

Jonathan Katz said neither he nor his staff was aware of any illegal activity at the properties under his management.

Mr Katz said he had complied with the City’s order in 2018 to close the recycling depot at the northern end of Ebor Road and since then no agency had made contact with him about Ebor Road.

In 2019 he had submitted building plans to redevelop 4 Ebor Road into 12 flats using the existing structure and creating parking on the ground floor. “Unfortunately the surrounding owners objected so we decided to employ our limited working capital elsewhere,” he said.

Mr Langenhoven said the building inspectorate was currently dealing with a backlog of problem buildings and so notices would only go out in May.

The Leisure Group did not respond to repeated emails. Neither did Uli Heydt on landline and cell numbers we had used previously. One is no longer in service and the cell number either cuts out or is not answered.

On Friday evening, people sat on stoeps at the southern end of Ebor Road, drinking and shouting amid the stench of human waste. A security van waited nearby. “Come back later and it will be much worse,” said an armed guard.

Gene Lohrentz, on behalf of the Wynberg Improvement District (WID), said that although their work had brought improved public security and cleanliness to the area they regarded all problem buildings as an obstacle to progress.

“All buildings within the WID area are being monitored. Where we believe repeated offences are being committed, we report it to the City Law Enforcement and other relevant departments,” said.

Mr Lohrentz said the WID was legally prevented from committing resources outside the precinct, where the Heydt and Katz buildings were, but it acknowledged that the City had identified them as problem buildings and it would “cooperate with the City in all matters to resolve the situation”.

Past WID chairman Athol Swanson said they had met with Ebor Road property owners and the City in 2018 to discuss possible inclusion in the WID.

“Due to the poor ‘payment ratio’, part of the City’s assessment, and monies already owed to the City – primarily by the Heydt and Katz properties in the proposed area – we were unable to proceed,” said Mr Swanson.

Wynberg police spokesman Captain Silvino Davids said they were aware of the councillor’s plans but not of specific details.

“I’m sure that it would assist us in our fight against crime for that area. Ebor Road area has been a hot spot for some time. We’ve had a number of successes there including an arrest for dealing in liquor, possession of stolen property and theft.

“Most of our arrests in that area are drug related. Our patrols and stop-and-searches and operations are ongoing. We’ve had cases of break-ins reported from businesses in and around Ebor Road. In some cases, some businesses have been broken into more than once.”

Ward councillor Emile Langenhoven has described Grand Central as a “hotbed” where occupants sleep in shifts and overcrowding is straining infrastructure.
In 2018 the City ordered Jonathan Katz to close the recycling depot, pictured with Grand Central in the background, at the northern end of Ebor Road.
Ebor Road on Friday evening with people sitting on stoeps at the southern end drinking and shouting amid the stench of human waste.