A group of women conceded that the alleged muggers also lived on the premises and confirmed that stolen property was sold to “Nigerians
The Sol Plaatje Municipality has called on the Department of Roads and Public Works to take responsibility for the dilapidated historic houses in Dalham Road after a schoolboy was robbed of his cellphone yesterday morning, allegedly by people who have moved into the now squalid semi-detached houses.
Sol Plaatje municipal security guards, together with officials, yesterday raided the houses, where several people were found sleeping in horrific conditions, amidst filth and human excrement.
The father of the schoolboy said yesterday that he had dropped his son off at the intersection of Memorial and Dutoitspan Road yesterday morning. “He was walking up to school, listening to music on his phone, when he was accosted by two men, who stole the phone.”
One of the alleged muggers managed to escape, while the other was arrested.
Municipal spokesman, Sello Matsie, yesterday appealed to the Department of Public Works to reclaim the buildings, which are national monuments, and to restore them to their original glory.
“The condition of these buildings are appalling. It is absolutely shocking,” Matsie said yesterday. “They are being used as a haven for criminals and drug users.”
Matsie pointed out that the protection of human life was paramount to the municipality. “These houses are close to a number of schools and are a threat to learners and residents in the area. The neighbours have also complained of repeated robberies and break-ins at their homes. But besides the threat that they pose to outsiders, they also pose a threat to the people who live in them. Abandoned buildings like these, where people are afraid to go inside, are ideal hide-aways for human traffickers and pimps.”
He added that it was not the first time that the municipality had received complaints about the cottages. “We have received numerous complaints through our building section directorate.”
Matsie stated the owners of the cottages, believed to be the Department of Public Works, would be notified by the municipality. “As these houses belong to the state, we appeal to the department responsible to take ownership of the buildings, because they are posing a serious risk to the residents in this area. They cannot just be left as they are – the situation is a severe health and security risk. The people living here are also vulnerable and need help.”
He said that in the case of private property, the municipality had the right to approach the courts to obtain permission to demolish buildings which were a danger to the public. “In this case we can only appeal to the department responsible to restore these houses and put them to good use.”
When the municipality raided the properties yesterday morning, there were several people sleeping amongst the filth and dirt in two of the semi-detached cottages. A group of women, who were initially reluctant to speak, conceded that the alleged muggers also lived on the premises and confirmed that stolen property was sold to “Nigerians”, who also supplied them with “any type of drug you want”.
While two of the semi-detached houses had visible evidence that people were living in them, an adjacent house is standing empty and has been completely gutted. The overgrown garden is littered with clothes, bottles, bags, shoes and other debris, while the rooms inside are totally bare, with everything from the doors, to the windows, the light fittings and even some of the floorboards and the beautiful pressed ceilings stripped and missing. The floors are covered in human excrement and a putrid smell hovers over the area.
Two women, who are living on the property, made a passionate appeal for help, indicating that they had been living in the cottage for around two years. “We are in this situation because we are desperate. There were a lot more people living here before but now there are less. We are pleading for help, any job, even gardening work, so that we can get off the drugs.”
The one woman, who indicated that she has four children, who live with her mother in Roodepan, explained that it was “out of frustration” that she had ended up in this situation. “My mother cannot care for me and my children.” Together with another woman, who she identified as her sister, the two said they were often so high that they forgot they had children.
Both appealed for help for a third woman, who appeared dazed when she was woken up by the security personnel and was not responsive when addressed.
“This one, she needs, help,” they said, adding that the woman was only 18 and had come from Umtata in the Eastern Cape.
“She came here when she was still young,” they said. “She is raped every day by men all over town and the men also come here. Sometimes she gets R50 and then she buys alcohol and drugs. Without a fix, she cannot sleep and we have to look after her.”
They added that her boyfriend (who they identified as one of the alleged muggers in yesterday’s incident) would hit her if she came home without money. However, they denied that he was her pimp.
The women added that they knew all the drug lords in Kimberley. “Here the drugs are sold in front of the Hawks’ offices – they don’t even hide it – but no-one does anything.” They admitted that the men who lived there resorted to stealing, not for food, but to buy drugs.”
They also appealed for help for a “boer” (white man) apparently living in the back of one of the cottages. “His name is Jesus but he is going to die unless someone helps him,” the women said. “He is so thin – he never eats – he just does drugs and he is sickly. One day soon, we will come here and he will be dead.”
Nearby residents yesterday slammed the Department of Health, who at one stage were reported to own the properties, for turning a blind eye to what was happening.
“These cottages are situated between the Ministry and the Department — you cannot tell me that you don’t know what is going on here. This is proof that politicians do not care about the people they are supposed to serve. At the end of the day, when a dead body is pulled out of one of these cottages, they will stand on their podiums and give speeches but when they can do something, they pretend they don’t know what is going on,” the resident said.
Questions were raised more than a year ago about the status of the houses by the Democratic Alliance which questioned whether there were any plans to renovate, utilise and secure the properties in question.
Spokesperson for the Department of Roads and Public Works, Crystal Robertson, said at the time that the department, as the custodian of all immovable government property, had handed the houses to the Department of Health for the purpose of accommodating doctors and nurses.
“As government we take cognisance of the concerns of the public. We assure the public that the Department of Roads and Public Works and the Department of Health is working collaboratively to determine the way forward in terms of these state houses.”
Robertson did not respond to media inquiries about the houses yesterday.
The semi-detached cottages, were built by Cecil John Rhodes in the 1890s, to accommodate the Viennese philharmonic orchestra.