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Punished for doing Sol’s work

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There was also no water and electricity as electrical cables, water pipes and taps had been stolen.

BACK ON THE JOB: Municipal workers have started erecting a fence around the caravan park. Picture: Soraya Crowie

While local organisations and businesses have stepped into the void created by the Sol Plaatje Municipality’s apparent inability to maintain its facilities and streets, the local authority is hitting back.

The CC Riders Motorcycle Club in Kimberley has for months been working on trying to restore the city’s caravan park, which has been left in a state of extreme disrepair as a result of vandalism and a lack of maintenance.

The facility has been closed for several months and in March the municipality withdrew its officials for safety reasons.

In a report on the caravan park by the Director of Community Services, the municipality itself admitted that the caravan park had been embattled with many incidents of theft and vandalism and visitors had stopped coming because they were being attacked and robbed.

Although attempts were made by the municipality to fix the facility and improve safety these failed as burglar proofing, Devils’ fork panels, alarm systems and electrical cables were stripped and stolen. There was also no water and electricity as electrical cables, water pipes and taps had been stolen.

“The caravan park is being invaded by criminals who have immensely damaged or impaired the property, rendering it unfit for recreational purposes and work conditions for our employees,” the report stated.

The CC Riders, who use the caravan park on an annual basis to hold their bikers’ rally, have meanwhile been trying for several months to engage the municipality to map a way forward that will secure the premises for visitors to the city. The rally, held around November each year, sees a cash injection of more than R1 million into the city’s economy.

Chris Mpisi, from CC Riders, said yesterday that the club had sent numerous letters to various officials at the municipality about the state of the caravan park and its future viability but had not received any response.

“The caravan park was literally being carried away – piece by piece. When the last portions of the roof were stolen we decided to intervene and, at our own cost, appointed security officials on a 24/7 basis. By this stage, the facility was completely dilapidated and, in the spirit of maintaining our own in Kimberley – especially as Sol Plaatje has a bad reputation of maintaining anything – we decided to step in.”

Mpisi said that the club appointed contractors to undertake work that club members could not do themselves. “It is still far away from admitting visitors, but we were slowly getting there.”

The ceiling was repaired and work started on repainting it. “Everything in the ceiling had been broken. The electrical ports at the caravan sites had been smashed, the toilets were broken and club members stepped in to paint, varnish the windows and even replace the hand basins and turn the bathrooms into showers after the baths themselves were smashed in an attempt to get to the copper piping underneath.

“Together with providing security, the club has spent thousands of rand on the facility.

“We were prepared to step in and try salvage what we could at our own cost – essentially to take ownership as the municipality had abdicated that responsibility.”

After nine months of silence – and ignoring attempts to open the channel of communication – the municipality last week contacted the club, stating that they were on the premises illegally and that their actions were unprofessional and irresponsible.

Yesterday, municipal workers arrived at the park and have started repairing the perimeter fence as well as fixing up the office.

“No one is talking to us – there is just lots of arrogance and no appreciation for the work that we have undertaken. We have been begging the municipality for months to meet with us to discuss the caravan park so that it can become sustainable. What saddens us is that while we have been reprimanded and reminded that what we are doing is unlawful, nothing is said about the vandals who came in and broke down the facility – that’s okay. We are being made out to be the villains.”

Mpisi added that the club was now afraid that they would be put out. “We are here and we will stay here. The municipality has three options – they can reimburse us for the hundreds of thousands of rand we have already spent, but then they must ensure that they have a sustainable plan in place and that they provide security; or they must agree that we work together to ensure the future viability of the facility; or they must agree to lease it to the club.”

Municipal spokesperson, Sello Matsie, said yesterday that residents should understand that despite their good intentions, they needed to follow proper procedures.

He added that it was illegal for a municipality to lease municipal-owned property without first advertising its intentions and giving other residents, who may be interested, an opportunity to throw their hats in the ring.

“The fact that an organisation is on site does not make it legal. We acknowledge that they are enthusiastic and have good intentions and we are not saying that they should be shown the door. However, they need to go through the proper channels.

Matsie conceded that the municipality’s Parks and Recreation Section had, over the past year, experienced immense loss as a result of theft and vandalism of municipal properties.

“All facilities lack security services and most of the facilities that are often targeted are in remote areas. These facilities include the community halls (West End Club and Abantu), swimming pools (Galeshewe and Karen Muir), cemeteries (Phutanang, West End, Ramatshela and Roodepan), De Beers Stadium, King George Artificial Turf and the caravan park, which is now falling apart as a result of theft and vandalism constantly taking place.”

According to Matsie, a meeting was held with the CC Riders chairperson and the then Acting Chief: Parks and Recreation, Deon Moeti, who informed the club of the need to follow proper council procedures to apply for a lease contract.

“A formal letter dated August 1 2018 was forwarded to the bikers club informing them that their request would be procedurally dealt with at the applicable committee meetings and that they would be informed once a decision had been made.

“It was with great sadness to discover that the caravan park had been illegally invaded by CC Riders in August 2018, to a point that the municipal maintenance personnel were denied access into the facility to repair the facility in preparation for the season.

“An appointment was agreed upon by the CC Riders vhairperson and the Chief: Parks and Recreation, Tumelo Maropong, to meet on September 25. The chairperson failed to honour his own request for a meeting without any apology.

“An agreement was again reached with CC Riders to postpone a meeting that was scheduled on October 5 to allow all relevant stakeholders to be involved to take this matter forward.”

Matsie, however, did not indicate whether the caravan park would be reopened and if so, when, or whether security would be provided on the site to prevent it being targeted again by vandals.

He also did not respond to requests for comments regarding the large number of municipal-owned facilities in the city that are now totally unusable and the apparent unwillingness of the municipality to allow private organisations to step in and run them.