An aerial view of Robben Island

Cape Town - Robben Island management has assumed responsibility for maintenance of the World Heritage Site after the Department of Public Works failed to adequately keep the island up to standard.

Robben Island Council chairman Sibusiso Buthelezi told Parliament’s portfolio committee on arts and culture that the Robben Island Museum was finalising paperwork so it could take over the maintenance work on the island – a statutory responsibility of the department.

Buthelezi said when engineers evaluated the island’s power plant in April, he was alarmed by the fact that certificates of compliance for one of the transformers showed the plant was last serviced in 1991 – in contempt of occupational health and safety regulations.

His presentation to the committee read: “Poor state of maintenance of the island due to the reliance on the Department of Public Works. Until 2013 Robben Island was the only World Heritage Site in South Africa whose delivery of services to international and local tourists depended on the department.”

The issue was listed as one of the main problems the island was experiencing.

“There was general neglect over decades and, as a result, some of the facilities have moved from the stage of routine maintenance to major capital works. Some units in the power generation plant were last serviced in 1991,” Robben Island Museum chief executive Sibongiseni Mkhize said, while expressing the same frustration.

Talks for the island’s management to take responsibility for maintenance began in 2012 between the Department of Public Works, the Department of Arts and Culture and council executive members, Buthelezi said.

They were expected to reach a conclusion by the end of this year. Until then, the museum had taken responsibility for maintenance after it received a one-off grant from the Department of Arts and Culture.

Buthelezi said they had hired about 110 unemployed youths to do general maintenance. Contractors were hired to do water and electrical works. “The water and sewerage infrastructure is in need of urgent attention. However, significant (general) improvement has been made since the museum took responsibility.”

The presentation to the committee came days before World Heritage Centre inspectors make their way to Cape Town next week. Executive officer at the SA Heritage Resources Agency Dumisani Sibayi said during the inspectors’ last visit in 2011, they raised concerns about the physical state of the island.

The Cape Times sought comment from Department of Public Works spokesman Thamsanqa Mchunu who said the department was working on a response.

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Cape Times