Wynberg, a work in progress?

Maghmood Allie, Plumstead

“Crackdown on Wynberg slum”, Constantiaberg Bulletin 3 November 2022 refers.

“A multi-agency integrated operation at one of the worst problem buildings in Wynberg has sparked renewed hope for the improvement of the area.” This has not been the first and most likely not the last operation at the premises involved.

I’m not convinced that an improvement is imminent as the article further quotes Mayoral committee member JP Smith stating that “the properties of the area are well-documented as problem buildings and had been the cause of much frustration for years.”

These properties in Main and Ebor Roads are indeed registered as problem buildings housing mainly undocumented foreign individuals living in conditions described by councillor Emile Langenhoven as being “atrocious”.

Following this recent crackdown operation, the Main Road property suffered substantial fire damage two days later. The cause of the fire was not known but based on photographs and descriptions of the illegal electricity connections and living conditions, one has to wonder. The fact that no one was injured noting these living conditions as previously documented by the local councillor is perhaps the only positive to be taken from this episode.

I think of the tragic accident recently in Main Road involving the death of an innocent bystander caused by a minibus taxi and I think: Have we become so accustomed to seeing, hearing and sadly even experiencing death and destruction, crime and grime that we have become desensitized? Incidents like these being shrugged off because it does not involve us? Know that it certainly involves us. It is our town, our community, our streets, our people: it is us. “We cannot have our communities imprisoned. We should be able to walk the streets freely,” says councillor Carmen Siebritz.

It is us? Having just celebrated our diversity, while it may be strange saying this, our differences are what make us so similar. So, let us celebrate and embrace how different we think we are and become involved. Sure, we all cannot be activists walking the streets but we can spread a message, we can offer a prayer, as support for a cause comes in many guises.

I thought of my own recent “roadtrip” on an overcast day at the end of September, leaving Plumstead to visit Wynberg library on foot. Walking familiar streets and reaching Wynberg Station, using the subway tunnel into Station Road. Passing people loitering, smoking and openly dealing in suspicious “goods”. Further up Station Road towards the Main Road passing taxis driving in a manner considered “normal”.

The journey home southwards via Main Road was just as dodgy and I thought of names, most long gone, which decades ago were thriving businesses: for example, Grand Bazaars, Hobbies & Handicrafts, McDonalds Outfitters & Haberdashery, Duncan Taylor, Rifkin & Miller, Morkels, Louis Shoes, Texies Fisheries, Sunshine Bakery and even a butchery now the subject of this “slum”. A new-look Wynberg Pharmacy and R James Hardware are still there. Many others not. The character and safety of Wynberg has indeed changed. Liquor stores, betting shops, gambling, drug dealing, prostitution, suspicious-looking individuals, crime, grime and filth, problem buildings, urban decay and general lawlessness. Progress? I have my doubts.