Old ghost town

The Old Mutual Centre has become a haven for vagrants and anti-social behaviour.

The once vibrant Old Mutual Centre in the city centre has now become a ghost town.

The centre, which used to be a busy shopping centre housing restaurants and retailers, is now only home to about four stores.

People hardly walk through the centre because there is little lighting, and tenants say because it is so quiet, people use the dark corners for antisocial behaviour such as alcohol and drug abuse, and even dealing.

The Old Mutual Centre will form part of the Zero2One tower, which, once complete, will be the tallest building in the city centre.

Construction of the 42-storey development was set to begin earlier this year, but was halted by a planning tribunal decision that the building must include 240 affordable flats.

The decision was contested by the developers, FWJK, who have since won the appeal, and the height departures were granted.
During the formalities, tenants at the Old Mutual Centre had moved out, leaving a few retailers behind, who say the building was suffering as a result of the hold-up.

An employee of one of the stores left in the Old Mutual Centre, who did not want to be named, said the security guards who are in the building have their hands full with vagrants using the building as a hideout, and sometimes, people do drugs in the corners, but move along when the guard comes.

“Before, it was a pleasure for people to come here. I’ve been working here for 10 years but now they are put off when they walk through the centre. The lighting is not good and the shops are all closed.”

She said they are unsure of what the future holds for the store. “We are just carrying on day to day until we know if we have to close or not.”

Shop owner Cindy Wang said she was in the dark about what is happening when the construction starts.

Although she says that they want to stay in the Old Mutual Centre, she says it’s not the same as it used to be.

“The security doesn’t walk around a lot and they take long to respond to complaints.”

Anton Venter, who manages a pawn shop in the centre, said since the building was sold it has been chaotic. He said drug addicts and dealers frequent the space. “In the empty area where the passageway goes to Woolworths, drug addicts sit there. They smoke on the staircases. It has gotten so bad that one day I walked past someone lying with a needle in their arm on the staircase.”

He said shops are doing business but not as much as they used to.

The CapeTowner contacted Old Mutual where Ahmed Kazi, of the property division, said the building was sold to the Land Equity Group.

However, emails to the Land Equity Group about the state of the building went unanswered.

Dave Williams-Jones, the CEO of FWJK, the developers of the Zero2One tower, said while they are aware of the situation at the Old Mutual Centre, they do not yet own it and it still belongs to the Land Equity Group, and said the CapeTowner should contact them regarding their arrangements for the centre as they await the official go-ahead to proceed with the project.

“Once we take transfer we will immediately secure the site and commence with the demolition of the existing structure.”

He said the plans include the gutting and rebuilding of the concourse level shops, which will reopen for trading by July 2020. “Pick * Pay and Dischem will be the anchor tenants of the new retail centre.”

He said the entire retail area on the concourse level will have to be shut down during construction due to health and safety reasons.

Asked about the appeals process, Mr Williams-Jones said the appeal was successful and the City of Cape Town has approved their departure plans. “We are just waiting for the project funding approval from Absa. We plan to start demolition this year.”

About the social housing aspect of the building, he said the City specified a minimum apartment size for a specified number of apartments, which is a requirement they are complying with.

Jared Rossouw, of Ndifuna Ukwazi, said they had objected to the Zero2One tower, on spatial justice grounds, because the initial plans made no provision for affordable housing and this would have resulted in the near total exclusion of black and coloured residents.

“The spatial planning law has changed and no longer tolerates development that replicates spatial apartheid.

“The mayor upheld the main thrust of our appeal and agreed with us that the City does have the obligation and powers to ensure that this and all new developments include affordable housing where this is reasonable, objective and arises from the proposed use. It sends a clear message to all future developments that they have little option but to comply with the law and include a fair and proportionate amount of inclusionary housing.”

Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said while the police are aware of the issues in the area, they were not aware of the dealing and drug abuse going on inside the building itself.

“The area is problematic because it’s near to the transport hubs and near to the Grand Parade, and it is quiet, so we do patrols there, but if it is a private building, the tenants and owners should liaise with us so that we can gather intelligence and conduct operations there.”

He urged the tenants and owners to get into contact with the police