Cape Town 28-03-2013 The five-a-side astroturf in Gardens Craig Hepburn who is the co-founder, director and coach of the African Brothers Football Academy – and his team are involved in a battle with the Cape Town municipality that has their vision of being “one of the largest self-sustaining football centres in Southern Africa” under threat, because of bureaucracy. Picture leon Lestrade. Story Fatiema Schroeder

Cape Town - The City of Cape Town has red-carded the African Brothers Football Academy in Gardens for operating illegally, leaving hundreds of children - many of them underprivileged - without a place to play football.

And its co-founder and director, Craig Hepburn, faces jail time or a R100 000 fine for unauthorised use of the property.

“It’s a nightmare,” said the former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper.

The matter will be heard at the end of the month.

According to the city council, the academy, which is run as a business and not an NGO, has been operating illegally on the site for the past three years.

The land is zoned for general residential use and would need to be rezoned to allow for the soccer courts, which would fall under the city’s “place of assembly” application.

But the Good Hope subcouncil last week supported a recommendation to refuse the rezoning that would regularise this “unauthorised activity”.

Subcouncil chairman Demetri Qually said during the meeting that he would get involved to find a better venue for the academy. “It is obvious that an awful lot of good is being done, but residents do have rights and objections. There is potential to improve the situation with co-operation across the board.”

Residents have objected to increased noise levels from the fields, parking congestion, the illegal erection of steel structures and unlawful use of the land.

Some residents argued that while the academy was established to coach children and underprivileged players, it was most frequently used by various soccer clubs for older children or adults.

But there have also been 140 letters of support from residents who said the use of the grounds for soccer was a “delight to see”. The area was no longer a haven for vagrants and “miscreants”.

Luyanda Mpablawa, who represents the parents of children attending the academy, said: “I can’t understand anyone saying there are never any children there. It’s a haven for children.” He said the Homeless World Cup was played at the venue, and there were ongoing community benefits.

Hepburn said he had no intention of changing the footprint of the site. He just wanted consent use to operate a “place of assembly” where five-a-side soccer could be played.

The academy has been leasing the site between Breda and Upper Orange Street in Gardens from Gardens Commercial High School since 2009.

It started as a development sports centre for underprivileged children, but has since expanded to include five-a-side courts which are let to clubs.

Hepburn said he was unaware of the zoning requirements when he started out. But he depended on the income generated from the five-a-side courts to support his development coaching programme. At least 12 schools use the facility, which has also coached the Homeless World Cup team and supported various social upliftment programmes.

“These children have the opportunity to improve their physical development; they spend time off the streets away from undesirable activities and they have the opportunity to positively impact their lives by participating in the proposed activity,” said Hepburn in his application.

He said he had invested at least R4 million in upgrading a facility on government-owned land. Meanwhile, his ongoing battle with the city council had already cost him R180 000 in town planning fees and a further R20 000 in legal costs.

The academy’s investor, Peter Wesselink, told the subcouncil that while they would be able to find a more suitable venue, there was concern the “same horrendous process” to get the required approvals would ensue.

Ward councillor Dave Bryant said that no one objected to “kids playing soccer” and that most of the complaints were about the after-hours use. He said he would work with the Department of Education about alternative sites.

[email protected]

Cape Argus