Can city’s heritage be rescued?

2017-11-20 13:58
An alleged brothel on the corner of Chancery Lane and Change Lane in the Pietermaritzburg city centre. The lanes used to be a unique part of Pietermaritzburg’s charming inner city.

An alleged brothel on the corner of Chancery Lane and Change Lane in the Pietermaritzburg city centre. The lanes used to be a unique part of Pietermaritzburg’s charming inner city. (Ian Carbutt)

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What must be done to beat the decay and ruin of heritage buildings in the city centre?

Ros Devereux, head of Amafa Heritage’s built environment section said strict by-laws must be enforced immediately.

She added that although the renewal process could cost millions of rands, she believes it is still possible to restore the capital city’s high heritage value.

“The exact cost of the damage can only be determined once a full assessment has been done,” she said. “Specialist work is likely to be required and elements may need to be custom made, which will increase the costs on certain aspects of the repair work.”

She said the municipality must immediately force the owners to repair the buildings to bring them up to a minimum standard.

She also warned that the continued decay would diminish the city’s tourism, which has lost its status over the past 20 years.

Devereux said the decay in the city was part of a “slum cleansing” process most cities experience.

“It’s all a process,” she added. “The rich move out to the suburbs and the poor occupy the inner city buildings in cramped conditions until slums develop. A new generation then moves in to rescue the old city while the poor are moved out into state-funded projects on the periphery.

“If Pietermaritzburg goes through a similar regeneration process then there is still a chance for the heritage buildings to be rescued rather than destroyed in the slum cleansing process.”

Customers wait outside a hair salon in Theatre Lane. Behind them is Astor Mansions, where there is major decay and lack of maintenance.

While Msunduzi Municipality has vowed to bulldoze some of the buildings, tenants and business owners will find themselves displaced.

City spokesperson, Thobeka Mafumbatha, said the demolition orders have been suspended for six months to enable property owners to remedy all contraventions.

Last Friday, the city’s clean-up campaign focused on the CBD.

Also read: Crackdown in ‘City of Filth’

Devastated business owners who spoke to The Witness last week said they had nowhere else to go and would lose their income if buildings were torn down.

Gaston Okoko, who owns two salons on Timber Street, said the municipality had given them short notice.

“I pay R6 500 rent for both businesses. It’s unfair that we have been given such short notice to vacate the building. Why couldn’t the municipality give us at least six months?,” he asked.

Okoko added that he has been running his salon business for three years and employs 12 people.

“I don’t have a plan. I have a family to feed and I rely on the money I make here. I also have hairstylists renting chairs to work from my salon and they pay monthly. They are now demanding their rent back,” he said.

Okoko’s Gaston hair salon is one of the businesses on Timber Street that are in illegally erected structures.

“I went to speak to the owner of the building and he said he cannot help me. I feel exploited,” the businessman said.

Gaston Okoko, who owns two salons on Timber Street: ‘It’s unfair that we have been given such short notice.’

Next to Okoko’s salon is a spaza shop owned by Ethiopian national Melese Denano. When The Witness arrived at his shop, he was busy packing away his stock in a van.

“I just bought my monthly stock. I need the money I make here to put food on the table for my family,” he said.

A resident who stays at Astor Mansions on Theatre Lane, said that if evicted she would have nowhere to go, adding: “Finding accommodation in the city centre at this time of the year is difficult.”

She said they had tried to get the owner of the property to maintain it.

“You complain and get tired. The doors on the balcony terraces have come off their hinges and most of the windows are broken,” she added.

Inside Astor Mansions, debris covers the floor, and the building is severely vandalised.

On the third floor, the roof has caved in. The lift to the third floor also doesn’t work.

On all three floors, walls have been constructed to create additional rooms.

Piles of garbage in a lane of between Theatre Lane and Timber Street in the Pietermaritzburg city centre.

Read more on:    msunduzi municipality  |  pietermaritzburg

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