Bid to have Pietermaritzburg’s ‘50 problem buildings’ condemned

2019-05-14 16:56
 Litter on the corner of Victoria and West streets.

Litter on the corner of Victoria and West streets.

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At least three City by-laws are flouted at any given moment on the stretch of Pietermaritz Street between Peter Kerchhoff and Pine streets.

Last month Sibusiso Sithole was appointed as an administrator and lawlessness is one of the issues that he is expected to tackle in his mission to turn Msunduzi around.

A Witness investigation into the area shows that breaches include illegal businesses, littering, parking on the road and roadside mechanic operations.

Frustrated ratepayers and residents say their attempts to get Msunduzi to enforce its own by-laws are futile. These residents are mainly concerned about the degradation of their neighbourhood and lawlessness that prevails.

“If I didn’t own a property here I would have moved elsewhere but even if I wanted to move now it would be difficult to find a buyer because of the condition of the area,” said Cathy Thompson.

She said over the years most properties on the street had changed from residential to businesses and this made it difficult for residents to enjoy their neighbourhood. “On weekends we don’t even sleep a wink. The taverns play loud music from the evening until the early hours of the morning and on Sunday the churches take over as soon as the taverns turn off their sound systems,” she said.

She said sometimes revellers left the establishments and sat in their cars where they played loud music and partied for the rest of the night.

Another resident, Thobani Mngoma, said the influx of foreign nationals had resulted in an increase in illegal businesses. He said most of the illegal structures that were used as tuck shops belonged to immigrants. “Of at least 80% of the by-laws that are flouted, the perpetrators are not South African. That’s why this section of the city is now called Somalia,” he said.

He denied that his views were xenophobic, saying The Witness should spend a week observing the area if it doubted what he said. He said the men who were working as roadside mechanics were also not South African.

“The municipality needs to have some sort of engagements with our fellow African brothers and sisters. They need to be told that they can’t come into our town and degrade it. It’s not fair to us because this is our home and we would never behave like this if we were guests in their countries.”

Pedestrians on Pietermaritz Street often find themselves having to walk on the road to avoid being knocked down by makeshift trolleys either being pushed or dragged by street people on the broken pavements.

The street dwellers are regular visitors to the illegal recycling site — on a property owned by Msunduzi — next to the uMgungundlovu FET College. This is where they sell their recyclables to fund their living expenses.

Female students are often seen holding their bags close to their bodies as they walk to campus or to catch a taxi home. They too try to avoid the vagrants who lurk on the streets even when they are not going to sell their goods. “There are several muggings that I’ve heard of so I don’t want to end up as a victim. I don’t even make eye contact with them because I don’t want them to see that I’m scared of what they might do to me,” said Nokuzola Mlaba, sharing a sentiment that was echoed by three other students who spoke to The Witness.

Residents living close to the recycling plot suspected that more than 20 vagrants now resided on the site. They said noises could be heard coming from there even late at night.

“We can hear them crushing cans late into the night. They also make fires to cook and to keep warm,” said one of the residents. Another said last year her laundry was stolen while it dried outside and she suspected her “unwelcome neighbours”.

She said she no longer felt safe in her own home as the thieves were able to jump over the fence. “There are no toilets there so they defecate under the trees on the corner of the property next to my house. As a result my family is now forced to live with the smell of faeces and urine day and night,” she said.

Numerous attempts to get comment from City spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha were unsuccessful.

Bid to have Pietermaritzburg's '50 problem buildings' condemned

According to a report that recently came before the sustainable development and city enterprises portfolio committee, Msunduzi has been aware of “the deterioration of the social fabric in the upper city precinct” and several attempts to address this urban decay had not achieved the desired outcome.

A directive was issued to the relevant sub-units to deal with compliance issues in the area as part of clamping down on by-law infringements.

More than 50 problem buildings have been identified on Pietermaritz and West streets and the City’s legal department is planning to approach the high court to have them condemned.

The number would have been bigger but the building control unit had challenges locating the owners of some of the properties as they had been taken over by invaders.

Inspections by City officials found that most properties in the precinct were used as boarding houses, tuck shops, resturants, motor workshops, taverns, offices and flats.

However, the tuck shops, taverns and motor workshops are not permitted under the current zoning, and are contraventions.

Acting general manager for sustainable development and city entities, Nyakane Atkins Khoali, said the problem of illegal structures and businesses started in 2012 and now they were all over the CBD. He said the infringement committee — which consists of officials from environmental health, town planning, business licensing and building control — had already visited some of the properties on Pietermaritz and West streets, but their campaign to enforce the by-laws was ongoing.

He said in some cases issuing fines was no longer an option as it failed to deter the perpetrators and that is why they would now be taking the matters to the high court.

There was a proposal for the formation of an interim enforcement unit that would include a legal adviser, town planning and environmental management, to provide more a streamlined approach to the enforcement of by-laws.

“The formation of a unit that monitors and enforces illegal trading on the streets on a daily basis will yield the desired success and ensure a safe, clean and free environment which will attract business growth of the city centre, which will be enjoyed by all,” read the report.

The town planning inspectors are currently working towards getting a peace officer certification which will enable them to issue fines to those who flout by-laws related to land use.

The report is yet to come before the executive committee and council.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality

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