Derelict subway a blight on business

From left, Kwikspar manager Yusuf Banderker, Engen manager, Otilja Esterhuizen, Petworld Express manager Steven Maier, and ward councillor Katherine Christie looking at the Silwood subway after a recent clean-up.

A derelict pedestrian subway in Rondebosch has become a home for vagrants and a blight on nearby businesses.

The subway, near the Silwood Centre, runs under Campground Road towards Croquet Lane in Rondebosch. It has been locked for the past two years, but this hasn’t stopped vagrants squatting there.

The stench of urine and faeces hangs over the ramp leading down to the mouth of the subway, and litter is strewn all about.

Nearby businesses say conditions at the subway are threatening their livelihoods. They want a lasting solution to the problem.

The manager of the Kwikspar, Yusuf Banderker, has worked in the area for 22 years and says vagrancy was a problem even before the subway was locked.

“This subway is located in front of the business where customers park, and it is affecting business and scaring the customers away as the homeless are constantly asking for money from them.”

The subway also posed a threat to the pupils at the many schools in the area, he said.

Petworld Express manager Steven Maier, who opened his store a few months ago, said he was shocked at the amount of litter in the area.

“My concern is that the homeless people staying near the subway are constantly fighting among each other, and I even saw bricks hurled from one another. There is no regard to the safety of other people and their vehicles.”

The new Engen garage, on the corner of Silwood Road, is expected to open at the end of the year, and its manager, Otilja Esterhuizen, said the area was becoming increasingly dirty, and street vendor Sylvester Muziri said he had seen fights break out among the vagrants.

Rondebosch Community Improvement District (RCID) manager Shirley Aldum said vagrants had pitched tents on the ramps leading to both subway entrances and “the litter problem is totally out of control”.

Within 48 hours of the area being cleaned, with the support of City Law Enforcement, the vagrants would return, she said.

On Wednesday January 12, ward councillor Katherine Christie joined municipal workers as they cleaned the front of the Silwood subway and removed a truckload of dirt after the homeless who had set up camp there, were asked to dismantle their shelters.

Ms Christie believes filling the subway ramps with concrete to turn the area into a parking lot offers a possible solution to the problem.

“If we can create a business-friendly environment, we can create more jobs to deal with the unemployment crisis in the country,” she said.

Ms Christie said each homeless case was different from the next. “Some have fallen on hard times, some have mental issues, and we must deal with it with utmost care and compassion in providing support.”

Mayoral committee member for urban mobility Rob Quintas said subways were part of the City’s non-motorised transport network and turning the Silwood subway into a parking lot wasn’t an option.

“We cannot close this subway, as it is an important access route for pedestrians,” he said, adding that a “managed solution” – one that addressed cleaning, security, and vagrancy – was preferable.

The Tatler pressed Mr Quintas on how the subway could be closed for two years if it was an important pedestrian route, but he did not respond to that follow-up question by the time of publication.

Vagrants at the entrance to the Silwood subway.
Municipal workers cleaning the Silwood subway.