Bridge of woes

2017-02-21 06:00
Officials are working on a new plan to address the problem of the footbridge in Railway Road amid ongoing robberies, squatting and police raids. PHOTO: MONIQUE DUVAL

Officials are working on a new plan to address the problem of the footbridge in Railway Road amid ongoing robberies, squatting and police raids. PHOTO: MONIQUE DUVAL

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Local police and officials are working on a bold new plan to tackle the ongoing criminal activities at the footbridge and railway line in Woodstock.

In recent years, the footbridge and area leading off Railway Road have become synonymous with robberies, drug dealing, prostitution and illegal squatting.

Last week a large police contingent descended on the area in a bid to clamp down on various illegal activities.

People’s Post joined police and other security officers on a raid of the area shortly after 04:00.

Accompanied by Law Enforcement officers and members of the Salt River Neighbourhood Watch and the Woodstock and Salt River improvement districts, police orchestrated an organised clampdown aimed at closing off all entry and exits points to the area.

FleeingAs officers arrived, several people were seen scattering into the darkness while the smell of urine and faeces hung in the air. Officers walked through thick vegetation filled with litter and makeshift homes.

They approached each dwelling and searched for drugs and other illegal items, but while attempting to search dwellings near Beach Road, officers were thrown a curve ball as squatters set fire to their own homes.

The fire quickly got out of control and formed a barrier between police and men who were seen running away.

Officers contacted the City’s Fire and Rescue Services who arrived a short while later to extinguish the blaze.

Woodstock police spokesperson Sergeant Hilton Malila says: “You see now. This is exactly why it is so hard to police this area.

“Every day people crossing the bridge to get to work are being robbed and we find so many stolen items in these bushes. This area is known for robberies, drug dealing and prostitution”

Malila says police have raided the area three times since the beginning of the year and each time significant drug arrests were made.

The crux of the problem is the different land ownership in this area, he says. The footbridge belongs to the City of Cape Town. Some of the land around the railway line belongs to Prasa and a service line belongs to Transnet.

“Getting all these people around a table can be very difficult and in the meantime Woodstock police are stuck trying to clean up the area. Recently, Prasa erected a fence on one section which has helped to keep people out.”

During the early-morning raid officers moved onto another problem area at the Lower Church Street bridge where several more dwellings had been erected along the N1 highway.

Their occupants fled when they spotted the police, but more than 12 of them were caught during a chase along the N1.

Officers took all those arrested to the station where they were screened. Here officers found that many were foreigners who were in the country illegally.

A total of four people were arrested for drugs with an estimated street value of R5000. The drugs confiscated included 24 packets of tik, mandrax and one unit of ­heroin.

During the search officers found one man in possession of a tightly wrapped brown bag. As they opened the bag, sweets and dates fell to the ground.

Officers found a small bag filled with a white substance and suspected it could be drugs but it was later revealed that the substance was sugar.

Officers say the brown bag and its contents are what is known as a “sugar pack” used by illegal immigrants to sustain themselves when they hide on ships.

Ward councillor Dave Bryant says the issues plaguing this area have been brought to the attention of officials and a site visit was conducted last week. He says over the next few weeks, the City’s graffiti unit will be tackling graffiti on the bridge and a clean-up of all the glass and litter in the surrounding the bridge is planned. The City will also be installing lights along the bridge.

In addition, he says, they are working on a plan to meet with all roleplayers to come up with a sustained plan to keep the area clean.

“It’s a complex issue in many ways and the problem is that the people living there are not destitute and it has been proven that they are involved with criminal activity. As the City, we are responsible for ensuring a safe environment and this is why we will be arranging to meet with all involved to address all these issues.”

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