Waterloo Green drug rehab plan draws flak

An aerial view of the Waterloo Green properties showing how they have been stripped due to years of neglect and vandalism. Picture: Surdo Prop

A parliamentary portfolio committee’s recommendation for a drug-rehab centre to be established on Waterloo Green has Wynberg residents up in arms.

The community petitioned for the demolition of two derelict houses on Waterloo Green Road and made proposals for future use of the land to the portfolio committee on public works and infrastructure during a Zoom meeting in November (“Battle over Wynberg ruins goes to Parliament,” Bulletin, November 30)

A portfolio committee feedback report now recommends the ruins on the site – which is owned by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) – be renovated to establish “holistic substance use prevention and rehabilitation centres that provide related services in the Waterloo Green, Wynberg area to serve the community.”

Ward councillor Emile Langenhoven said it was clear the portfolio committee had ignored the community’s recommendations.

“Much of the content of the report is a reflection of the comments made by the EFF and the ANC during the presentation made to the portfolio. An EFF member specifically mentioned a drug-rehabilitation clinic while an ANC member made mention of ‘the greater good’. Combined, we are able to see the origins of this recommendation. And without this being discussed in a portfolio meeting means that it was caucused behind closed doors.”

“I would also like to point out that the regional manager for DPWI had not, to this day, submitted a report. It was therefore the decision of the ‘closed caucus’ to make recommendations on their own without the regional manager’s input. This recommendation overrides everything that the regional manager had mentioned in the meeting and has completely discarded her ill-informed plans onto the scrap heap of maladministration,” Mr Langenhoven said.

The report acknowledges the committee requested but lacked written information from the DPWI as custodian of the properties, but says it considered the verbal report from the department’s regional office, made during the committee meeting, in which the office said its first option was to protect the two houses as they held heritage value and that based on the input of the Western Cape Heritage Council, the department was getting a heritage specialist to assess the damage to each house.

The regional office had made it clear, says the report, that the department would prefer to renovate the properties so they could be used for the public good.

“It was therefore in agreement with the sentiment from the community and the petitioner that the properties had to be put to use for public purpose in the public interest,” says the report.

However not all residents feel a drug-rehab centre will serve the public good.

Phillippa Duncan, an executive committee member of the Wynberg Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, said: “The DPWI doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to heritage or maintaining, so I hold very little weight in their proposal regarding a drug-rehabilitation centre.”

A drug-rehab centre was unnecessary because a branch of U-Turn, an organisation that helps those battling homelessness and addiction, would soon open in Wynberg, she said.

“U-Turn has the most amazing policies in place, where they help people beyond drug addiction but by actually changing their lives entirely, finding them places to live and work.”

The drug-rehab centre proposed by the parliamentary committee was likely nothing more than pre-election politicking, she said.

“The elections are going to come and go and nothing is going to happen. Waterloo Green is going to remain the same, and it is highly problematic. The reality is that saying they want to renovate the two properties that have fallen completely down because of their heritage is BS. Those properties are beyond help.”

Resident Joss White said a drug rehab was unsuitable in an area riddled with vagrancy, homelessness, prostitution and drug abuse.

“You will need to move a drug addict out of his or her surroundings to a place where there isn’t that enabling support structure, and, on the other hand, all of these dealers are all trying to get their captive audience, which are all sitting inside that house. It just doesn’t make sense. We want the drug problem out. So if you are going to rehabilitate someone, do it properly. It is just a farce.”

Resident Gabriel da Matta said a drug rehab would be better placed in the Wynberg CBD. “Why are you bringing that into the suburbs when that can be done in the main road? There are land opportunities there, and you’ve got easier access for your potential patients. This proposal was made up in the parliamentary meeting. Why? Because DPWI had no submissions and no plan.”