Upset over condemned CPUT site

The overgrown grass in the field in Caledon Street have still not been cut, and it has become a safety hazard for residents.

Residents who live near CPUT’s condemned building in Caledon Street are fed up with their surroundings and are calling on authorities to urgently address the problem.

The building in Caledon Street, which was set alight during Fees Must Fall protests two years ago, has still not been secured, and no guards have been placed at the premises, which is being used as a haven for criminals and homeless people (“Burnt building must fall”, CapeTowner, September 14, 2017).

Janel Fick, who has been living in the area for 11 years, said the situation was getting worse.

“We are paying inner city rates and this area has gone down. The building which was damaged by the protests attracts unsavoury characters.”

She said the grass in the fields is so long that suspected criminals and homeless people could hide in there.

It is also filled with debris as well as needles used by drug users. “I feel sorry for the children coming from school who have to walk through these fields. It’s disgusting.”

Ms Fick said there was a resident homeless person who regularly started fires in the field, burning plastic and copper, creating toxic fumes in the air. The homeless man had also paraded naked on a number of occasions.

She said he had also burnt down the electric fence of the old age home in Caledon Street, and sometimes smashed glass bottles against their walls.

“I have called out fire engines over 40 times in the last few months to come and put out the fires. I have reported it to the police, to the City’s Law Enforcement and even to the ward councillors. I am at my wits’ end.

Another neighbour, Jopie Kaaslager, said the condemned building attracted homeless people who often made fires to either cook, keep warm or burn plastic and copper.

“I’ve had my car battery stolen seven times this year, and I am currently sitting with two smashed windows. My neighbour got a dog to protect his property,” he said.

Mr Kaasjager said he hadn’t spoken to the police about the situation, but had reported the crimes when he had fallen victim. “When you report it to one department, they direct you to another department, so I’m not sure how the problem will be resolved.”

Christian Walsh, who also lives in the area, said there were always suspicious characters walking around. “I saw two men trying to break into a car — they are very brazen. A man who did some work at my house had all his tools stolen as well. There is definitely an influx of crime.”

He said there were people living in the field and it was a security risk.

“It’s waiting for someone to get robbed or raped in the long grass.”

He said the grass should be cut regularly, and residents should increase security measures at their homes.

“If the grass isn’t cut, then people dump rubbish illegally. They should close the field up. People shouldn’t have to walk through the fields and little alleyways – there is enough thoroughfare.

“They shouldn’t make it that comfortable for people to live in that field.”

The ward councillor for the area, Dave Bryant, said he was aware of the situation on the field, and the homeless man who had been causing problems for residents.

“Neighbours have been complaining about these two privately-owned sites since the building was destroyed by riotous students during the fees protests. I accompanied the City’s Problem Buildings Unit on inspections earlier this year, and a notice was served by the City to CPUT with a set of conditions.”

According to a response from CPUT provided by Mr Bryant, CPUT had agreed to ensure that security measurements would be put in place.

They said the maintenance department would be tasked with closing off the burnt structure and fencing off the area; and that a task team would be sent to discuss a clean up of the area and assess the property.

Mr Bryant said aside from the boarding up of the building, no other security measures had been put in place to prevent anti-social behaviour there. He also said he has been in direct contact with the the National Department of Public Works, who owns the open plot, to request that they cut the grass, which they had agreed to two weeks ago. “We need the property owner and CPUT to come to the party now to assist in securing the site and improving the overall condition as a matter of urgency.”

But when the CapeTowner visited the plot, the grass was still long.

Emails to the National Department of Public Works went unanswered.

With regard to the homeless man, Mr Bryant said that although the police and City Law Enforcement were often called out to the site, there had been little success in arresting the individual who was making fires.

“City Law Enforcement have removed the individual on many previous occasions and assisted in putting out the fires but have advised that the police are needed to assist further due to concerns around the individual’s mental health.

“Intervention from the police is required in order to assist the individual into a place of care. The police have previously assisted but the individual was released soon afterwards.”

CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said the restoration of the Caledon Street building was part of a larger infrastructure and development programme being undertaken by CPUT, across all campuses and buildings.

“A contractor has been identified and restoring the building is a priority to the institution since it is in our best interest to continue using that site as soon as possible.”

Cape Town Central police did not respond by the time this edition went to print.