Wynberg business owners helpless as urban decay sets in despite their pleas
Cape Town - Business owners in Wynberg are at their wits’ end over the decay of Ebor Road.
Over the past decade, they have felt helpless as they watched on as the area has gradually deteriorated. They have tried to get the City of Cape Town to take action but their cries seem to have gone unheard as the issue remains unresolved.
Leif Petersen, co-director for Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation NPC, whose offices are in the road, said Ebor Road has been in a state of decay for more than a decade.
’’A small, committed group of business owners, including ourselves, have invested time, effort and money in our attempts to raise the standard of the area. We have painted all of the buildings (including much of the Uli Heydt building), planted trees, and regularly clean the street of litter. Our properties are well-maintained and managed. Between ourselves and just two of our neighbours, we provide over 100 jobs,” said Petersen.
He added that despite this, local area conditions in general, and the Uli Heydt problem building, threaten their businesses.
“The City has been telling us for the last eight years that the Uli Heydt building is listed as a problem and that they are working on resolving it. So far in 2020, we have had three break-ins and an aggravated robbery. In the last financial year, we have spent over R240 000 in direct costs related to local crime.
’’There is a shebeen in the Uli Heydt building that requires us to call Law Enforcement on a nearly daily basis. Glass is smashed in the street daily. Drunkenness, appalling language and violence have become normal in the road. The living conditions in the Uli Heydt building are utterly appalling – there are illegal water and electricity connections, people sleeping in squalor, open drug-taking and prostitution,” added Petersen.
As the owner of the building has allegedly lost control of the premises, Petersen said they need the City to take action in resolving the matter.
“It is the storage place of stolen goods and harbours criminals and criminality. Right now Wynberg is at a tipping point – if the challenges of the Uli Heydt problem building (among others) are not resolved soon – urban decay will continue to spread far beyond Ebor Road into the greater area and beyond,” said Petersen.
In 2017, the company worked with all willing neighbours to join the Wynberg Improvement District (WID).
“This was rejected by the City. What I learned last week was due to the problem of building owners not signing up and thereby nullifying our application (as an application needs a minimum threshold of property owners to be ratified). This is despite the fact that I was informed by the WID manager at the time that the City would make an exclusion for this circumstance, which motivated us to join the WID in the first place,’’ Petersen said.
He said the City told them the Uli Heydt building is at the top of the agenda to resolve, but they have waited more than eight years to see results.
“The City will not give the residents of the Uli Heydt buildings legal water connections or wheelie bins to deal with the rubbish they create, yet this does not prevent them from living in this dangerous building. The City meanwhile, wants our rates, job creation, economic growth and urban renewal, yet we see no action to drive the change that is required.”
“To give balance and be fair, the City is excellent at sending Law Enforcement officers around and responds to service requests well (litter, sewage etc), but this means, at best, they are plastering over the cracks while Wynberg collapses under the weight of the systemic challenge arising from the problem buildings,” said Petersen.
Recently the foundation has been forced to dig drains to divert grey water from the Uli Heydt slum through their property. They have taken this route, as the amount of water coming out of the slum is so great and uncontrolled that, during the lockdown, it flooded their premises, causing more than R140 000 in damages.
They say they warned the City through their lawyers of this eventuality two years ago, and their insurance company subsequently took the City to court for the cost of damages. The City settled out of court.
“The City stormwater/drainage system should be dealing with this, but because of illegal structures built on City property associated with the Uli Heydt building, which the City has failed to demolish, they cannot access their infrastructure.
“Either the City should acknowledge that people live there and provide facilities for them, or condemn the building altogether and not let people stay there. The current city approach is non-committal, and instead leaves the residents in the worst of all possible living conditions, and the effects of the urban decay affect the residents, the neighbours and the whole of Wynberg,” said Petersen.
Les Stain, owner of Stanex Exhaust Practical Solutions, said the state of affairs on the road has cost him some clients, as they are fearful to come into the area due to decay and crime.
“Every morning there are these guys smoking marijuana and drinking, then we have to clean up after them and this is private property,” said Stain.
Washington Mudzingwa, owner of Washington Panel and Spray, also said he had lost clients.
“It is a big problem because the other day one of my clients came here and had her necklace grabbed. I went to Law Enforcement and asked if they can help with a mobile toilet because every morning I collect rubbish (faeces) outside here,” said Mudzingwa.
Wayne Dyason, spokesperson for City Law Enforcement, said the Problem Buildings Unit is aware of these cases and it is still in process.
“These processes do take time and the PBU is currently dealing with 10 cases in Wynberg,” said Dyason.