Squat spot becomes community garden

The new community garden on the corner of Gabriel and Bardia roads in Plumstead. Picture: Gabriel Road Area Project Association

A Plumstead civic organisation is turning a municipal road reserve blighted by vagrancy into a community food garden.

The field on the corner of Gabriel and Bardia roads was a hot spot for squatters even before the pandemic hit, according to residents, but now, thanks to the efforts of the Gabriel Road Area Project Association (Grapa), it looks very different.

Getting approval from the City to protect the field from illegal occupation had been an arduous task, said Grapa chairwoman Professor Lorna Martin at the organisation’s annual general meeting on Monday.

“You first find out from the City which part of the City owns it, then you go to that department and ask them if there is any possible way that we could use it and what that would mean and how that would look,” she said.

“The City does various different things: you could have a lease or you could have a road-reserve management agreement with them. In the middle of our application process, that particular field, which is a road reserve, had changed departments as well. So we had to start again, but eventually, we got there with the help of our ward councillor, Emile Langenhoven, who was also very helpful in driving the process.

“Last year, we bulldozed and flattened the land, and because people had been living on that field in tents there was a lot of human waste and rubbish that had been compacted and buried. So we removed that first. Then, at the beginning of the year, when we got some compost, the first things planted were three chilli plants and some mielies.”

Professor Martin told how the organisation had held regular community clean-ups, planted more than a 100 trees, painted walls in communal areas and installed rock and pavement gardens.

Grapa had also fenced the community garden and set up a mobile CCTV camera and a solar light there too, she said.

Grapa project manager Neil Felgate said they wanted to get pupils from nearby schools involved in caring for the new community garden and they had also approached U-Turn, a non-profit company that helps the homeless, to see how it could assist the homeless in the area.

According to Grapa’s treasurer, Louis Fourie, the organisation spent R76 585 on preparing the field for the community garden and fencing it, R8500 on a water tank and associated electronic equipment and R10 886 on landscaping and hiring tools.

Professor Martin said the mobile CCTV camera overlooking the field needed an extra R4000 to keep it for another month until Grapa could come up with a better security plan.

Plumstead Neighbourhood Watch chairman Gary Klugman said they planned to install security cameras to cover Gabriel Road circle and Churchill Road along with other hot spots.

“We’ve already got seven that are going up here, and I see a bit of a conflict, when we could actually be working together, saving funds and going for the same objective,” he said.

Nancy Krisch, from the Wynberg Community Police Forum and Wynberg Sector 1 Neighbourhood Watch, hailed Grapa’s efforts as an “incredible example of what community can do when they want to”.

The City did not respond to questions by deadline.

At Grapa’s annual general meeting on Monday, chairwoman Professor Lorna Martin gave feedback on the civic organisation’s activities. Picture: Janice Matthews
One tent remained on the corner of Gabriel and Bardia roads this week. In the past, several makeshift shelters have lined the verges of Gabriel Road. Picture: Janice Matthews