Angry Bridgewater residents gathered at 6 Bellona Street, Somerset West, last Thursday morning to meet with MEC for Community Safety, Dan Plato, in a desperate attempt to find a solution to the now notorious “problem building” which has dragged on for over seven years.
The once magnificent manor house, with swimming pool and rolling lawns stretching down to the Lourens River, is now derelict, a fire-blackened shell, stripped of all fittings, including the roof.
Locals allege that it is the preserve of criminals, prostitutes and drug addicts, and they fear for their lives and property.
Bolander encountered a number of squatters on the property, including clear evidence of habitation. The building and surrounds are in a shocking state, strewn with rubbish and human excrement.
Bellona Street resident Neil Matthews, who arranged the meeting with Mr Plato, claims that occupants of the property are linked to a number of crimes committed in the area, including robbery, stabbings, trespassing and continued harassment of residents in the area.
“We have reported these matters to the SAPS Somerset West many times in the past, but now they no longer come out,” Mr Matthews said.
“They say it is a problem building and they have no jurisdiction. I’ve been in touch with Colonel Williams (former SAPS Somerset West station commissioner) and Lieutenant Colonel Fleischmann last week, and I invited them to attend this meeting with the MEC (Plato) and they didn’t even bother to come.”
In response to Bolander’s inquiry, SAPS Somerset West Station Commissioner Mary-Ann Williams said on Friday: “After numerous calls from the residents of Bridgewater regarding 6 Bellona Street, police members have attended to many complaints ranging from littering to urinating in public and illegal dwelling.
“Police have responded to all complaints and have removed the trespassers from the premises.
“This led to a police operation on Tuesday March 8, with role players such as The City of Cape Town’s Displaced Persons Unit, Helderberg Crime Watch and Vetus Schola, resulting in the arrest of 11 people for trespassing and one for possession of dagga. Only the dagga case was placed on the court roll and investigation will continue. Unfortunately, according to Senior State Prosecutor Hestia Grobbelaar, the cases need to be referred to the Municipal Court as the matters fall under municipal by-laws. All charges against the 11 – including two women – were withdrawn. All were profiled, and none are linked to crimes in Somerset West.”
She went on to say that her office has received numerous complaints about men in the area using the services of prostitutes at 6 Bellona Street, but was silent on whether these complaints had led to any form of follow-up police action.
According to Mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith, the building is scheduled for demolition.
“This demolition, for which the order has been obtained, is a first and has never been attempted before. The owner signed the demolition application after being threatened with court action, and after years of pressure. We are now procuring the contractor for the job.
“The residents have also been informed that they are free to demolish the building if they are able to arrange it quicker than the Council’s procurement process and the laws permit,” Mr Smith told Bolander last week.
Mr Plato supported Mr Smith’s suggestion regarding the demolition of the building: “If their policy dictates that it could happen, then it is the local government law. If that is the case, then I want to go along with that.”
“Pathetic,” said Mr Matthews in response to Mr Smith and Mr Plato’s suggestion that residents demolish the building themselves. “It’s pathetic to even consider that we should pay for having this building demolished. It should have been demolished at least six years ago by the City of Cape Town.”
Sub-council 8 chairperson, Stuart Pringle, who also attend the meeting, said: “I too have asked the City what is the delay in appointing a demolition contractor, and I am awaiting their answer. I have asked the City to consider whatever mechanisms they might have, to expedite the matter.”
According to Mr Smith, the owner gave permission to demolish the building two years ago. The demolition permit issued, expired while input was sought from the surrounding community and heritage agencies.
Currently, a supply chain management process is under way, and a tender for the demolition will be advertised on November 18, and will close on December 9.
Asked about the recovery of outstanding rates and municipal charges due by the property owner, which have accumulated over the years – in excess of R767 000 according to an email from Mr Smith – a visibly angry Mr Pringle had this to say: “The City is pursuing him through the courts. A local firm of attorneys is defending this man, who has done this to an historic building, all the way up to the appellate court and to the Constitutional Court.”