Inside Wynberg’s ‘wrong turn’ squalor trap

Seen here are the belongings of a small child who ran around the upper storey of the building once known as Uli Heydt Butchery while her mother washed clothes in a dark room nearby.

People are trapped in squalid and hazardous living conditions in the heart of Wynberg, says the ward councillor following an inspection of buildings in the Ebor Road area, which is also known as “Wrong Turn Road”.

“That’s exactly what it is,” said Ward 62 councillor Emile Langenhoven, after joining Sub-council 20 chairwoman Xanthea Limberg and other officials on the tour of the area on Tuesday April 29. “People who have made a wrong turn and have been imprisoned there ever since. There is little chance of escape. My thoughts always return to the children who live there.”

Ms Limberg and Mr Langenhoven vowed to use all legal means to tackle the problems in Ebor Road.

Dr Leif Peterson, the co-director for the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, a non-profit company, accompanied them on the tour of this short, mixed-use road running parallel between the railway line and Wynberg Main Road. He said decay had plagued the area for over a decade. His office in the southern section of the road is up for sale.

The inspection included two double-storey buildings – one in Ebor Road, once home to Uli Heydt Master Butchers, and the other on Wynberg Main Road – as well as a lane dividing the block.

According to City records, 8 Ebor Road belongs to Purple Rain Properties 171 and the one at 263 Wynberg Main Road is owned by Up Front Investments. Company records list Ulfila Axel Alexander Heydt as the sole director of Purple Rain Properties 171 and as the sole director of Up Front Investments 99, although there are about 40 numbered iterations of the latter company and the City’s latest valuation roll doesn’t specify which one. Our efforts to contact Mr Heydt for comment proved futile.

Occupants of both buildings and the lane said that someone called Mandela was collecting rent there.

“I was struck by the poverty, the indignity and the unhygienic circumstances that people have been subjected to and were expected to pay for in one or other way,” Mr Langenhoven said.

“I could hear water running in one of the rooms (in 263 Wynberg Main Road building). I walked up to the doorway and it was pitch black inside. I switched on my cellphone torch, only to find a lady who did not seem to notice the light, or was too afraid to turn her head, washing clothes in a basin.

“In the entire building, there was a mixture of odours, ranging from urine, faeces, dagga, food, etc. There were distinct indications that children lived in this environment, with dolls, prams and other toys present.

“Electrical wiring hung loosely all over, and I couldn’t help having visions of an electrical short causing a fire that would ravage the building and raze it to the ground.”

Mr Langenhoven said that at 8 Ebor Road there were “makeshift partitions created in dark, airless rooms that made breathing difficult and visibility nearly impossible without a torch. Drug and alcohol abuse have imprisoned residents into poverty, locking them into a cycle of despair”.

He said he was treating living conditions in the area as a high priority. “The people attending this walkabout are instrumental in finding solutions to these problems and ensuring that the law is upheld”.

The block is divided by a lane that has a brick wall between it and the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation complex. According to officials at the inspection, the lane falls under the City’s transport directorate.

The City’s senior building inspector, Quentin Carelse, said the roads department had jurisdiction to take back the lane, and the people living there would be given 48 hours notice to move because they were blocking infrastructure, such as a manhole cover.

Bernicia Ploens said she had lived in the lane for 10 years and many of those living there had jobs and paid R1 500 rent to someone called Mandela, so-called because he had given them the “freedom” to live there. “He drives an R800 000 SUV,” she said.

But they had stopped paying rent, she added, because there was no water or electricity.

A man, who lives in the cottage on the corner of Ebor Road and did not want to be named, said he paid R5 000 rent a month. He said he did not know how much of the rent went to the owner, but he asked that the house be fixed. “There’s no water; it’s not in a good condition; you can see from the outside. Tell the owner he must come and fix it.”

On Monday May 1, we met with Jonathan Katz, an owner and managing agent for some of the Ebor Road properties. We asked to meet in Ebor Road, but he said he did not go there, so we met outside his office in nearby Malton Road.

Mr Katz said he had rented out 4 Ebor Road to a church group some years ago. “The occupants were very cunning in that they continued to rent out rooms and consume utilities while paying for nothing for two years. Besides the unpaid rental, they have left us with a municipal bill in excess of R414 284 even though we had requested disconnection many times over the last two years.”

He said the occupants had finally been evicted after two years of litigation.

He said had complied with a City request in 2018 to close the recycling property in the cul-de-sac at the northern end at 3 Ebor Road, but twice a week, 40 wheelie bins from Grand Central, a neighbouring block of flats, were lined up in front of his properties in this cul-de-sac.

Mr Katz said he had submitted building plans in 2019 to redevelop 4 Ebor Road into 12 flats using the existing structure and creating parking on the ground floor.

“Unfortunately the surrounding owners objected. We only have three tenants from whom we earn a nominal rental. Repairs and maintenance is limited to a budget based on the income and future prospects of the property. So we decided to employ our limited working capital elsewhere. Now we would be open to selling the property,” he said.

He was adamant that no drug use or prostitution took place on his properties and he was reducing his arrears debt to the City.

Over the years, and more recently, all efforts to contact Mr Heydt through family members have been in vain. Instead, we have heard from two reliable sources that he is ill and has abandoned the buildings.

A candle burns in a dark, airless room in Ebor Road.
Local businesses have painted this building in Ebor Road but it belies the squalor inside.
Dr Leif Peterson tells Xanthea Limberg and Emile Langenhoven that Ebor Road has been in a state of decay for over a decade.
People living in the lane that runs parallel to the railway line and Main Road Wynberg.
This lane falls under the City’s transport directorate.
There is hardly space to move inside this pitch black, poorly ventilated partitioned room on the ground floor of a building in Ebor Road.
A law enforcement officer photographs electrical wiring in the upper storey of the building once known as Uli Heydt Butchery.
Jonathan Katz says 40 wheelie bins from Grand Central are lined up twice a week in front of his properties, in this cul-de-sac at the northern end of Ebor Road.