The demolition of the old Springbok Pub seems to have led to the dispersal of street people in Newlands.
Having begun at the end of March, the demolition of the dilapidated Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) owned building located next to the Newlands Railway Station is anticipated to be completed by June.
According to Barbara Breedt, general manager of the Groote Schuur Community Improvement District (GSID), street people who used to live at the pub have set up illegal structures in the train tunnel behind the old Newlands Rugby Stadium in Boundary Road.
Breedt says some street people have also taken refuge in the designated area (at the Sports Science Institute) earmarked for a gathering point should a fire break out.
“The process to have them moved is being expedited due to the seriousness of ensuring the dedicated fire outbreak gathering point stays clear,” she says.
“Should they be moved from the mentioned area, they will definitely take refuge in the tunnel as well.”
Breedt adds that in the past five months or so, the GSCID office has received numerous complaints with regard to the people living in the tunnel. In addition to fires being made, she says the train is having to stop when it enters the tunnel due to people moving or leaving foreign items on the track.
“Someone is going to be struck by the train ... The chances for the infrastructure of Prasa being damaged or stolen is a definite.”
Breedt says they have also received complaints of noise and fighting at night.
Mikhail Manuel, councillor for Ward 59, says he too has received complaints.
“Residents are concerned that having people living in the tunnel attracts criminals, posing a safety issue in the area. They are also concerned about someone being knocked over by a train, as the residents have frequently heard the train needing to come to a complete stop in the tunnel and hooting its horn to clear the way.”
Manuel says in mid-April, he was notified that Prasa had an operation planned to remove the people from the railway tunnel.
“I have engaged with Prasa to resolve this matter. We have our monthly meeting in the last week of May. I will be taking it up then as well.”
In a recent letter to People’s Post, Manuel called for the “rickety mesh” railway fence between Kelvin Road in Rondebosch and Guildford Road in Rosebank to be replaced.
“Fencing is the first mechanism to protect infrastructure from vandalism and misuse. Without adequate fencing, Prasa is allowing the rail reserve to be used for all kinds of activities,” he says.
Breedt says, even though the area does not form part of the GSCID mandate, their social fieldworker and the City of Cape Town’s Department of Social Development have interacted on various occasions with the street people living there.
“They refuse assistance. They don’t want to go to a shelter or to be relocated back home due to gang violence,” she says.
People’s Post visited the tunnel on Wednesday 4 May to speak to Laurianne King, one of the four people who lives in the narrow inlet between two of the tunnel’s pillars. Also seen during the visit were members of Prasa staff and Railway Saps, patrolling the area.
King, who grew up in Mitchell’s Plain, confirms that fear of gang violence is why she prefers to live in the southern suburbs. About three years ago, she says she was hit in the leg by a stray bullet.
“They shoot guns there at home. They shoot out of the cars; at their own people.”
King believes their staying in the tunnel isn’t bothering anyone.
“We don’t steal from the people here, we don’t do crime. We park cars and go through the bins every morning.”
She says they do hear people running past them late at night.
“They come running by here when we sleep. Dan kom maak die boere ons wakker en dan sit hulle ons goeters uit (Then the police wake us up and throw out our belongings).”
She says the shelters do not have room for them and she believes even when the City tries to improve things, street people end up not benefitting from these changes.
“Most of the people stay long on the road; rather they can give us a plot or something. The area here is full of fields where people dump. We will keep it clean, put up our own shelters, then we don’t have to live like this.”
While the National Disaster Management Act remained in place, law enforcement could not confiscate any personal items such as tents and bedding. However, on Monday 4 April, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an end to the national state of disaster. The City has since sent out information to community stakeholders, detailing its post-disaster approach to “helping people off the street”.
People’s Post contacted Prasa earlier this month, asking if they too had formalised a post-disaster approach.
In response, Prasa’s spokesperson Nana Zenani, said Metrorail’s mandate is to operate trains within the rail reserve.
“We are focusing on resuming services on corridors that were previously closed as per Covid-19 hard lockdown. We are a regulated entity by the Rail Safety Regulator which stipulates our operational environment. We are also focusing on restoring the central line so the people can once again benefit from passenger rail,” said Zenani.
According to Wayne Dyason, Principal Inspector, Law Enforcement, City of Cape Town, the City’s Streets and Public Places By-law applies to public spaces only.
“Law Enforcement is thus not mandated to act on any land that is not the property of the City of Cape Town,” says Dyason.
Malusi Booi, the City’s Mayco member for Human Settlements, says Prasa is the responsible authority to deal with the unlawful occupants on their land. He says they must follow all legal prescripts and make sure it complies with all by-laws and legislation.
“For instance, in one of the larger unlawfully occupied areas in Langa, the national government’s Department of Public Works and Infrastructure has identified potential land for the people occupying the Prasa land in Langa.
“The Housing Development Agency is carrying out feasibility studies and will need to obtain planning approval if the land is found to be suitable. These entities are the lead authorities in this matter,” says Booi, adding that the City will support all feasible actions where possible.
Breedt believes regular operations and cooperation are what is needed “to ensure street people move off the railway line”.
“We are usually informed that Prasa has a lack of manpower and cannot assist with operations or clean-ups on a regular basis.”
She requests that “all the necessary parties urgently come together to ensure that the concerns are addressed”.