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Cape Town - Mayor Patricia de Lille wielded a spade in Mitchells Plain on Wednesday, helping to close off the first of 51 high-risk lanes that residents say have become sites for mugging, tik smoking and illegal dumping.
After months of planning and community meetings, the mayor and city officials helped block off the lane at Vaalrivier Way to celebrate the launch of the project - which will see the other lanes closed in the next weeks.
Westridge and Portlands residents first approached the council two years ago to complain about the lanes, claiming they had become crime sites. They were originally incorporated in the town planning to create shortcuts between neighbourhood streets.
“The lanes have become a real nuisance and a danger,” said resident Maria Poole, 73, who has lived in Portlands for 33 years.
“Last year, I heard a couple fighting outside my house. The man starting beating the woman. I saw it happening under the street light, but then he dragged her into a nearby alley and continued to beat her in the darkness. That’s only one example.”
Her neighbour, Deon Cupido, also welcomed the closure of the lane: “Every Friday and Saturday night for months now groups of young men have been coming to this lane to do drugs and to drink. They make a noise and I can’t sleep. All I hear is shouting, laughing and bottles breaking all night long. The next morning it is really filthy, and it is up to us to clean up.”
Cupido has applied to the council to lease the section of the lane next to his property and incorporate it into his garden for the princely rent of about R300 a year. The city has budgeted R373 000 to pay for the lane closures, and is encouraging residents of adjacent properties to rent the spaces.
“The leases will run for 10 years and will cost a little over R300 a year,” De Lille said. The closures would limit space for illegal activities, ensure that the additional space was used optimally and generate income for the city.
Michael Jacobs of the Mitchells Plain Community Policing Forum, who has attended many of the public meetings at which the closures were discussed, welcomed the move.
He said most residents supported it, although two concerns remained.
“Firstly, there were instances in the past when police used these lanes as shortcuts to apprehend criminals. Secondly, some residents complained that the access to the lanes was useful when travelling from home to taxi routes. Yet, I can safely say that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”