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A bridge too far for neighbours

Cape Town - They might live in upmarket flats, but their view of the Helen Suzman Bridge is marred by incidents of physical assaults, drug dealing and prostitution.

This week a man was pushed off the unfinished bridge on the Foreshore, allegedly after being robbed by people who live on or under the bridge, said Marc Truss of the Green Point and Oranje-Kloof City Improvement District (CID).

Residents of a Foreshore block of flats say illegal activities on the bridge keep them up at night. Right, the meagre belongings of the bridge people are neatly stacked. Picture: JASON BOUD. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Truss said the man claimed he was lost and was approached by two people who pushed him off the bridge. “All the signs were telling him that he can’t go in there… If you look at the whole area there, the city should do something.”

The man suffered minor arm injuries, he said.

He said CID members were probably the most frequent visitors to the area, going almost daily to arrange clean-ups and other operations.

Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said no such incident had been reported to police.

The bridge has become a hub of illegal activity, say residents, and least impressed with the situation are those living in flats in Harbour Edge, a short distance away.

Andrew Stodel, a trustee, said the issue was regularly discussed at body corporate meetings but e

-mails to the city over four years had failed to yield positive results.

“It has become like a sport for the people in the building now. People… will watch what is happening out on the bridge and the people below me, for instance, will text me and tell me to see what they are up to now… It is becoming a little central crime spot.”

Last week three women were robbed just outside of the building, leaving residents uneasy, Stodel said.

“Even the patrol guys are too scared to come out at night, when the real action happens, when the more hardened gangsters come out,” he said, adding that they had suggested the city erect a locked gate. People who used the bridge for photo shoots could get permission to enter.

The city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, said he has corresponded with Stodel, but a fence was not the answer.

“We conduct regular operations in this area and others similar to it, but the dynamics require the criminal justice system to play a greater role.

“Law enforcement agencies make arrests where crimes and other antisocial behaviour are evident, but it is difficult to truly contain and address the issue when offenders are not dealt with appropriately via the criminal justice system, which is a national competency and out of the city’s hands.”

He said fencing the area off would only shift the problem to the next available open space and was not viable.

“In many instances there is a perception the city can remove street people to another location and the problem will be resolved. However, this is easier said than done, because there are reasons why people congregate in certain areas to begin with.”

Smith said he, the CCID, provincial Social Development department, NGOs and a senior prosecutor had met and found they needed to consider measures that would put repeat offenders in court, and later have them sent to rehabilitation centres.

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