Stench more than just a foul smell

2017-07-25 06:00
The ticketing office on the Athlone side of Athlone station has fallen victim to vandals and houses vagrants at night.PHOTO: Earl Haupt

The ticketing office on the Athlone side of Athlone station has fallen victim to vandals and houses vagrants at night.PHOTO: Earl Haupt

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A foul smell pierces the air as passengers walk past the abandoned building at the end of Aden Avenue at Athlone train station. The whiff itself already speaks of what awaits inside what is now the remnants of a ticketing office.

According to residents and local business owners, the Prasa-owned building has been vandalised by vagrants and gangsters.

“Over time now residents and businesses have raised the issue about the vacant buildings at Athlone station that are used by criminals. It has been coming on for months now,” says Edward Doe, deputy chairperson of Athlone’s community policing forum.

“We have raised it at our business meetings with Prasa and they seem not to want to deal with it. That was three months ago and up until today they have done nothing.”

Prasa spokesperson Riana Scott says the matter has been raised with urgency at monthly meetings with the City of Cape Town to emphasise the need for a “holistic approach to vagrancy”.

“Finding a sustainable and cross-functional solution to an entrenched socioeconomic dilemma is critical. Until such time as adequate facilities and viable alternatives are available to Cape Town’s [homeless], their presence in ‘inappropriate’ areas will unfortunately remain,” says Scott.

Priscilla Links, who has been living nearby for more than 60 years, says she hears people “chopping up the building” at night.

“People walk past and they do nothing. The security at the station does not do anything. If I can hear them in the house, they can surely hear what is going on over here.

“They built this from our tax money we worked so hard for. It just stands here and they never ever used it, so what did they build it for?” says Links.

Athlone police spokesperson Sergeant Zita Norman says there has not been an increase in crime in the area because the police have not received an increase in reports.

“The police have liaised with Prasa with regard to the safety risks which the building has for commuters and the community. Athlone police have increased their foot patrols and visible crime prevention patrols at various times of the morning, afternoon and in the evening,” says Norman.

“Crime intelligence has also been activated in the area to curb robberies and to arrest suspects posing a threat to commuters as well as suspects who have been reported on cases that were laid at the police station,” says Norman.

Business owners and residents are urged to contact the police when suspicious people in the area pose a threat to them.

“Without the community’s assistance we as the police cannot address crime which is not reported to us,” she adds.

Doe says the neighbourhood watch in the area also concentrates on the station, but that means they end up neglecting the rest of the area, which has a negative impact on their work as volunteers. 

“They are putting their lives at risk because the security agencies don’t do anything, so what happens is that the neighbourhood watch takes that responsibility which is not ideal.”

One local business owner says he is threatened daily by vandals and he has been robbed on numerous occasions.

“We report it, but nothing gets done. This morning two police vans drove past here and they did not even flinch or stop to remove the broken glass and [the vagrants] kept on removing the window while the police vans were driving past. If you do anything or report anything you get threatened. 

“Two of my cars were stolen and the third one they attempted to steal,” says the ­businessman.

He says his business is suffering because customers do not want to come to that part of Athlone. 

He confirms that Prasa has conducted a site visit, but nothing came of it.

Prasa is scheduled to meet with Metro Police, the Athlone CID, police and Law Enforcement to discuss both a joint operation to clear the building and a permanent solution to the security challenge in the area. 

Prasa spokesperson Riana Scott says vegetation control and cleaning rail reserves are done twice a year. 

“The crux of continuous cleaning relates to available funds,” she says.

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