Residents unite against property

Constantia Meadows Homeowners Association chairman John Butler and operations manager, Carol Minton.

The City of Cape Town has told the national Department of Public Works to clean up a derelict state-owned Constantia house or have it declared a problem building.

The house is tucked in a corner of open ground at the end of Denbigh and Montley roads, in Constantia Meadows.

There is a nearby path joining these roads to Students Way in Plumstead and used by pupils from the nearby Norman Henshilwood High School.

There have been two major fires at the house, one on Sunday January 8 last year, and another on Sunday December 10. Residents say officials came out to inspect the property after the first fire, but it had remained a haven for vagrants and rats.

The house has proved to be such a blight on the neighbourhood that residents in the area formed a civic organisation to do something about it: the Constantia Meadows Homeowners’ Association (CHMA) was registered early in 2017.

The association has sent several letters of complaint to Public Works about vagrants, crime and grime. It has corresponded with councillor Liz Brunette, law enforcement and Diep River police.

CMHA chairman John Butler has email correspondence, from February last year, between himself and Ms Brunette in which he complained about a water leak at the property.

She writes that there is nothing the City can do about the leak because the property is owned by Public Works. She tells him she will report the problem to Public Works and that she is familiar with the “horrific state of the building and communicates with the regional manager of Public Works at least once a month”.

In the end, a plumber from Students Way had repaired the leak at no charge after the water had been running for three days, said Mr Butler.

CMHA operations manager Carol Minton said the City’s law enforcement told them they could not do anything because the property was owned by national government. Diep River police had advised them to sign a petition.

So far there are 219 signatures on the petition calling the house a health and safety risk and demanding its demolition.

The CHMA plans to deliver the petition to Diep River police and law enforcement next week.

When the Bulletin visited the house earlier this week, there were two people living in one of the rooms.

Anthony Vermaak, coughing badly, said a Plumstead Neighbourhood Watch (PNW) member had given him permission to stay there. “As long as there are no firearms, drugs or lots of people,” he said.

However, PNW chairwoman Charmaine Lillie said the patroller had told the couple they could stay only until they found other accommodation.

“Of the vagrants that frequent that house, they are apparently well behaved and look after the house,” she said.

“Lots of criminal activity takes place in that house,” said Ms Lillie.

She said law enforcement had “cleaned the house out on numerous occasions”, seemingly contradicting Ms Minton’s assertion.

“Our patrollers regularly check up on the couple and to see that no criminal activity is taking place there. The house is a danger and needs to be pulled down,” said Ms Lillie.

Norman Henshilwood High School has used the house as a changing room and the open ground to play sport and wants to do so again.

Acting principal Jawaad Holland said there had been “much discussion” with Public Works about that, but there was “lots of red tape”.

“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare, and we will live it for the time being.” Ms Brunette said she had reported the house’s derelict state to the City’s Problem Buildings Unit last year.

Richard Bosman, the City’s executive director for safety and security, said the house would be declared a problem building if Public Works did not act “with the prescribed timeframes”. But he didn’t say what those were.

The Bulletin phoned and emailed Public Works several times since Thursday January 18 and spoke to various officials and official spokespersons but none of them responded to our questions by
the time this edition went to

Diep River police also failed to respond to our questions.