Occupants oppose eMatsheni closure

2016-05-11 06:00
PHOTO: nqobile mtolo eMatsheni beer hall.

PHOTO: nqobile mtolo eMatsheni beer hall.

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IF the eMatsheni beer hall closes about 200 people will be without jobs, which means that more than 400 people will go hungry.

This is according to concerned occupants at this Retief Street beer hall, who were served a notice of eviction, which stated they had until last Friday to vacate the premises.

Part of the notice, dated 1 April, from the Msunduzi Municipality reads: “As per the Full Council Resolution dated the 9th of September 2015, it is the intention of the Municipality to:

a) Shut down the beer halls on Erf 2246 Pietermaritzburg being 74 Retief Street to allow for the re-planning of the area

b) All illegal occupants have until the 30th of April to vacate the property.”

The letter was signed by Msunduzi Municipality acting municipal manager­, Boniwe Zulu.

The occupants said the municipality should stop painting everyone on the site with the same brush, indicating that they are criminals and sell drugs. Moreover, they feel that public consultation on the renovation plans have been hazy, which includes the start and end dates of such plans.

Wati Sikhakhane, who has been selling cooked food and cool drinks since the eighties there said the money he makes enables him to take care of his family, including his nine children.

“Not everyone at eMatsheni sells drugs. The drugs are not manufactured at eMatsheni. As occupants we contribute towards end-of-year stokvels. How will we manage that if they chase us away?”

eMatsheni spokesperson Sfiso Mtshali said it is ironic that the municipality stopped providing security and cleaning services for eMatsheni in the mid-nineties, but now they complain about crime and cleanliness at the beer hall.

“We are not against the plans the municipality has for this place, but they should not remove us. The speaker of eMatsheni should be included in public consultations and meetings about the said developments. They should never conclude that we are ignorant and that we know nothing about our rights.

“They should rather transform this place into a historical site where tourists can come and get information about the beer hall history. eMatsheni is our heritage,” he said.

Another occupant, Mlungisi Ngubane, said that eMathseni has ex-convicts, who use the area to turn their lives around by doing legitimate businesses.

“If their businesses are closed they will be forced to return to crime again. The responsibility vested on us, as entrepreneurs not as employees, is huge.

“With the money we make we are able to pay debts including house bonds, car instalments, university fees, school fees and mostly we put food on the table, as it is a basic need that has no alternative.

“If the municipality accuses us of criminal activities, the government must treat us equally or our right to equality is being infringed.

“The fact that government had a meeting about us and excluded us means that our right to information was infringed. We were never given a chance to speak about this as our right to freedom of expression.

“Drugs are a national issue, not only­ at eMatsheni. The remedy to it will be to demand a national response. The manner in which the government has done this is not transparent.

“It is the municipality’s responsibility to create a tourism site since eMatsheni­ is older than 60. By law it is recorded as heritage site. With that said the municipality should clean the place and allow tourism activities,” Ngubane said.

The beer hall chairman, Dumisani Mdlangathi, said on 21 April they met with municipal officials to negotiate the resolutions made at the full council meeting.

“We are still negotiating with the municipality. As far as we know, it is still business as usual at eMatsheni. We are not against development, but we are just not clear on what the municipality intends to do with this place.

“Municipal officials should do their research to find out what exactly happens at eMatsheni. They can then decide what needs to stay and what needs to be removed. The national government must intervene. In the end they will need our vote.”

A lecturer at the Durban University of Technology Department of Architecture, Debbie Whelan, has done research on the eMatsheni beer hall. She said the beer hall has opportunity for reuse, has good space and has viable­ potential. Her 16-page research titled “The beer hall fracas and contested social­ infrastructure in Pietermaritzburg in the 20th century” explains this phenomenon.

Two weeks ago the Msunduzi Municipality was approached for comment on development plans for the beer hall, the costs, the start dates and where the current occupants will be placed, however at the time of going to print they did had not responded.

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