Public works slammed for mismanagement of prime Cape Town property

Public works are criticized for mishandling important Cape Town property

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Members of Parliament criticized the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure ( DPWI ) on Wednesday for failing to uphold prime real estate in Wynberg, Cape Town.

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Six buildings make up the 21, 000m2 property on Wynberg’s Waterloo Green, which is roughly the size of two rugby fields. Locals claim the property is a haven for drug users because two of its homes have had their plumbing and electrical wiring removed.

Two other double-story homes that are guarded by security guards appear to still have tenants but are in disrepair, while the third house appears to be mostly intact.

Before being returned to the DPWI in 2016, SAPS had previously used the homes as lodging. SAPS continues to use the warehouse, the sixth structure, as a garage.

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Neighbors presented a petition asking for the demolition of the two abandoned homes and the DPWI’s responsibility to the Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure. Since they were constructed more than 150 years ago, the two houses that have been demolished and the one that is being protected by a security company are considered to be heritage sites. The two-hectare property could be worth tens of millions of rands and is close to upscale Chelsea Village and Maynardville Park. It is surrounded by three elementary schools and a high school.

The committee was informed by Penny Penxa, the regional manager of DPWI, that several uses for the properties have been proposed. Doctors from the nearby military hospital were to be housed on the property at the Department of Defense’s request. The Department of Justice wanted to set up an office in one of the homes because there was a magistrate’s court nearby. Some of the land was suggested for parking by schools.

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According to Penxa, “deterioration had already occurred” and “invasion had taken place” when SAPS returned the buildings in 2016. In order to” try and contain the illegal occupation,” she claimed, a security company was established in 2021.

She expressed regret that the department had allowed the buildings to deteriorate and stated that they were working with attorneys to get the illegal occupants evicted.

Public Works
a public works department heritage house on Waterloo Green. GroundUp image

highlighted safety issues

In his presentation on behalf of Wynberg residents, Ward Councillor Emile Langenhoven ( DA ) stated that issues with the property’s illegal dumping date back to before 2016. Later, it was discovered that the homes had been occupied against their will. One of the homes ‘ thatch roof caught fire in November 2017. Due to safety concerns, the building was also designated as a problem building by the City of Cape Town in 2018.

Residents of Wynberg, according to Langenhoven, looked for ways to stop the properties from being occupied illegally. The DPWI received numerous requests to address this issue, he claimed.

There have been numerous raids and arrests at the property, but nothing seems to be working. The demolition was scheduled to happen in April 2023, according to an assurance. Months passed with nothing occurring, according to Langenhoven.

Residents Sam Wilcox-Diedericks spoke to the committee and stated that they had been observing the property’s decline for the previous ten years.

public works
Wynberg’s Waterloo Green property is largely open park but fenced off. SAPS uses the structures in the distance as a garage. Groundup in the image

Assets that are n’t kept up

The department’s response did not impress the MPs. This was a result of what the portfolio committee had been discussing” for many years,” according to Wayne Thring (ACDP ).

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Thring, who also criticized the department for not giving precise timelines for its proposed actions, said,” We have seen this across the country.”

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Additionally, Isaac Seitlholo ( DA ) deemed it unacceptable that the department did not give the committee a written presentation as required. We will repeatedly find ourselves in this situation, where properties are being allowed to deteriorate, according to Seitlholo.

Bernice Swarts, the deputy minister for DPWI, pledged to submit a written submission to the committee within seven days. According to Swarts, although we have a policy that permits us to demolish property, it cannot supersede heritage sites. The written submission, according to her, would describe their options under the current policy.

” We’re going to work on a solution to make life comfortable for the residents of Wynberg.” She continued,” This challenge has been around for years.

The committee would compile a report, according to committee chair Nolitha Ntobongwana ( ANC), for all members of Parliament to discuss.

Housing opportunities lost

The DPWI continued to waste and mismanage potentially transformative public land across South Africa, according to researcher Nick Budlender at the housing advocacy group Ndifuna Ukwazi.

The department freely acknowledges that it has no real idea which properties it owns and in what condition they are, as if leaving public land vacant and underutilized for decades is insufficient, according to Budlender.

This shows a serious administrative failure as well as an inability and reluctance to use public land to construct more just, effective, and sustainable cities. We must demand higher standards.

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Words and images: GroundUp/Matthew Hirsch

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