Call for action at Mascani

A view from a property in Woodstock that overlooks the Mascani informal settlement.

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for something to be done about a Woodstock squatter camp.

The Mascani settlement in Railway Road, which at last count in 2019 was home to about 70 people, is plagued by muggings, shootings, drug use, prostitution and other social ills. The site is owned by the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA)

Rob Marshall, the man who started the petition and a Facebook group, “Action for Maskani” (sic), which has 157 members, says the camp has blighted the suburb for years.

“Hundreds of operations have been conducted and have not addressed the root cause of the issue – which is why a different approach is needed. SAPS on their own can’t address the reason that people flock there,” he said.

The problem dates back to 2016, and since then there have been many calls from the community for Prasa to do something.

Mr Mashall said the issue was a complex one and needed a complex solution.

His petition, now with some 500 signatures, calls on Prasa, the Department of Transport and the City of Cape Town to intervene.

Mr Marshall proposes alternative shelter for the squatters; visits by social workers and drug counsellors; ongoing visible policing with random searches for drugs and guns; clean-up operations; and strict enforcement of the curfew.

Such steps would make a difference for both the squatters living in “inhumane conditions” as well as neighbouring businesses and residents who endured the camp’s ills spilling onto their doorsteps, he said.

“ Apathy from the community is viewed as approval,” he said.

Mr Mashall pointed to the Pickwick transitional housing site as a model that could be used at Mascani.

“This is not an anti-poor or eviction campaign. We need to think about where these people would go to, especially in this current climate.”

Ward councillor Dave Bryant said he had fielded many complaints about Mascani, mostly about crime, dumping and hygiene.

Prasa had agreed to fence a section of the site, but that had done little to improve things, he said.He had met with Prasa and City officials about the site in the past and was now trying to set up another meeting with Prasa for an update on its plans for the area, he said.

Since he had taken office in 2016, he said, surrounding roads had been rehabilitated and a lot of graffiti had been cleaned. SAPS had also helped with several anti-crime operations. Money had also been budgeted to improve lighting around the bridge.

However, he said, it would take a firm commitment from Prasa to work with SAPS to tackle criminality in the area, and a clear action plan was needed.

Metrorail spokeswoman Riana Scott said all vacant Prasa land in the Western Cape was set aside for future development and operational requirements.

Relocating informal settlements was a long process that needed to follow the legal route and alternative land was needed for those being moved, she said.

Prasa as well as the local and provincial authorities were seeking a “sustainable solution” and one that didn’t risk a “backlash”, she said. “Experience has shown that land invasion happens either by design or desperation. Land invasion is not confined to Prasa only – it is a broader issue endemic in areas where supply of and demand for housing is misaligned and the prevailing economy unsupportive,” she said.

Mr Bryant called on residents to raise their concerns with the relevant Prasa officials.

“My hands are tied in terms of how much I am able to intervene at this site,” he said. “I have made numerous prior attempts, and the reality is that without the direct intervention of the property owner and the SAPS, we will not make progress.”

Mr Marshall said his efforts to deal with Prasa had met with limited response. He said he believed the community was prepared to play its part, but it needed Prasa to do likewise.

“This is such a vibrant area, and we can’t have a situation where people are held up in their homes or we lose the character of the area.”