Building breeds crime

People sleep in different compartments in the building.

The Cape Town Central police are sure that if the derelict building on the Station Deck is secured, demolishedn or redeveloped, crime will decrease in the area.

Police say the building, belonging to the Passenger Railway Agency of South Africa (PRASA), has become a haven and hide out for parolees and gangs who are involved in robberies in the nearby Culemborg bridge, drug dealing and prostitution.

Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October said during their latest operation two weeks ago, they rounded up 39 people – 14 women and 25 men – who sleep in the open building at the entrance of the Cape Town Station Deck.

“We’ve also re-arrested one suspect who was wanted by SAPS Elsies River, “ said Captain October.

He said there had been a significant increase in robberies and muggings in the vicinity of Old Marine Drive, near to the derelict building.

“Most arrests made in this building when we have operations here are for dangerous weapons, possession of drugs, possession of stolen property and wanted suspects hanging out in the building.”

He said they also suspect that about eight prostitutes sleep in and work from the building, which used to be the old long distance railway station.

It has been vacant for almost 10 years, and attempts made by Prasa to secure the building have been thwarted by persistent suspected criminals and homeless people who use the building as a hideout.

There are no security guards on the site. But despite the ongoing problems the police have in and around the building, the City of Cape Town said they have not received any complaints, and PRASA seems to have no plan for the derelict site. The CapeTowner visited the site with the Cape Town Central SAPS, who conduct daily patrols and regular operations at the premises.

It was easy to enter as there is no controlled access. The main entrance of the building smells of human faeces and piled up rubbish is evident on staircases and in corners. There were also lighters and drug paraphernalia near peoples’ sleeping quarters.

“We always find foil, used to smoke unga, lighters and sometimes tik lollies. They can use drugs freely here,” said Captain October.

In the centre of what seems to be the main hall, two structures are erected, belonging to two women who are woken up by the police. The women, who chose not to be named, said they, too, live in fear as people enter the building throughout the night. One of them said suspected criminals who rob commuters and visitors to the city centre run into the building and hide there.

Another man, who said he had been homeless for four years, has been living in a room in the building for months. And although the circumstances are not the best, he said it is better than being on the streets of the city centre.

He said he and a room mate collect water from the bathrooms at the Grand Parade.

Captain October said that crime in the area will definitely decrease if the building is either secured or redeveloped. “Something needs to be done here. My suggestion is that PRASA gets additional security, or that they liaise with the City Central Improvement District to have some guards stationed at the premises 24/7.”

Neil Engelbrecht, the acting manager at PRASA Real Estate Assessment Management, said PRASA is aware of the challenges currently posed by the vacant building, described as the Goodhope Concourse.

He said the building was sealed off in various areas to prevent access to operational areas, and was fenced in by the principal contractor during the refurbishment and construction of the Parade Concourse.

“PRASA is currently busy with a sustainable operational security plan for this area. It is also the intention and protocol to engage with the Railway Police, SAPS and the City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement Department during this strategic operational security plan.”

However, Wayne le Roux, the spokesman for Metro police, said they have not received any complaints regarding the property, and therefore, it has not been declared a problem building. “The unit will investigate the property in terms of the Problem Building By-law, and then it can be dealt with in terms of this by-law.”

Mr Engelbrecht said the building has also been earmarked for further development by PRASA for a future airport rail-link or an administrative hub to serve the needs of PRASA. “Further to the latter is that alternative uses and feasibilities are being investigated for the best use and utilisation of this precinct, including short-term retail and commercial opportunities to preserve and reinstate the precinct.”