Illegal traders and vagrants in the vicinity of Steurhof and Plumstead railway stations are a blight on the neighbourhood and linked to an increase in crime in the area, say residents.
Several traders the Bulletin spoke to admitted to not having trading permits, but they said they were simply trying to make a living in hard times.
In December and again in March, residents in the tiny community between Steurhof station and Plumstead Main Road wrote to City officials, asking them to do something about the traders and vagrants in Prince Avenue, the road that runs parallel to the railway line.
On Saturday April 8, one of them, Tony Burls, sent pictures of people peddling goods at Steurhof station to City officials, councillor Carol Bew, the mayor and the premier. “The dire situation of vendors adjacent to Steurhof and Plumstead stations is getting worse,” he wrote.
“Subsequent to my email [one week before], our property was invaded by intruders the same night. These illegal vendors are not only an eyesore but are also attracting all sorts of crime,” he claimed.
Steven Sloan who lives further along Prince Avenue, less than 100m from the vendors, sent pictures of bedding, clothing, rubbish, beer bottles and faeces on a nearby open field. He believes this was left by homeless people/vendors who sleep there.
He suspects drug dealing is taking place after observing a vendor approach cars that pull up at Steurhof station and then drive off. Michael Dreyer, who lives in Prince Avenue, said there had been ugly scenes in the past when the police and station security had tried to move the vendors.
“Sellers can be violent. Last week, I observed police removing sellers/vagrants from the area of Wittebome station. The next day, I observed three police vehicles checking on Steurhof station subway. The officer-in-charge said they had problems at stations where the sellers now play cat and mouse with them. The sellers now appear and disappear repeatedly and sometimes for an hour at a time.”
Gail Zizzamia, also of Prince Avenue, said some of the vagrants were aggressive.
“They also leave a mess, as when they set up camp, they eat and sleep and do everything there. Sometimes there is a huge group of them sitting on the opposite side of the road as well. I see them organising their goods on trolleys at the overhead steps in the parking area. I think they sleep there sometimes or store their things there.”
Charmaine Sixsmith, who lives in Wembley Avenue, a continuation of Prince Avenue, said the vendors were simply trying to make an honest living.
On Tuesday April 25 Ms Bew said vendors had been removed from Plumstead station in response to complaints from residents.
This reporter visited Plumstead the previous week and found two stalls across the road from the station. When I took a photograph, two men wearing reflective vests chased me, snatched at my bag and swore at me.
A man who identified himself as Chris Brown intervened. He runs one of the stalls and admitted to not having a trading permit, as he did not have an identity document or the money to buy a permit. Mr Brown said he was simply trying to make a living.
The other stall belongs to the a man who operates the kiosk shop at the station. He did not want to give his name, but said he had had a permit for 17 years, and the annual cost was R89. He said he also had permission to sell sweets, chips, cigarettes and chocolates at the tented stall across the road.
He said he tried to keep the place clean but arrived to piles of litter every morning.
At Steurhof station, Ricardo and Clint – they did not want to give their surnames – sell second-hand goods to commuters. They admitted that they did not have trading permits, but asked why the residents were against them as they were trying to make a living.They claimed that they tried to keep their surroundings clean and that criminals came from outside the area.
Bulletin asked Diep River police spokeswoman Sergeant Amanda Gordon whether crime had gone up in the area and, if so, whether there could be a link to the vagrants and traders, but she referred us to the City’s law enforcement.
The City’s response came from Eddie Andrews, the mayoral committee member for area south, who said traders had to have permits and could only operate in demarcated trading areas.
Metrorail spokeswoman Daphne Kayster said: “Informal trading is prohibited in Metrorail precincts, not to deny informal traders or beggars an opportunity to put food on their tables but to restore order to the commuting environment.”