Pine Road bust confirms residents’ fears

TAURIQ HASSEN

Known criminals and drug dealers frequenting an informal settlement in the heart of Woodstock are raising concerns, with residents saying the Pine Road informal settlement is “unsafe and dodgy”.

One of the residents, who did not want to be named, said she had seen her fair share of “illegal activities” unfolding at the site over the years. “From fighting, to drinking, to people being robbed – it happens in this road and it mostly stems from this settlement. People around here are generally worried about the activities at this site, because it’s the kind of activities that can get you killed,” she said.

The woman said many of the “known criminals” of Woodstock are usually spotted in and around the Pine Road settlement.

“On one occasion, a man was spotted robbing a woman close to Trafalgar Park and moments later, he was arrested at this site, because this is where they run to and there are people living at this settlement that hide these criminals,” she said.

The woman said she feels bad for the handful of people living on the site, as some of them are employed by residents in the community. “It’s a case of everybody gets painted with the same brush. I personally know of one or two people who wake up in the morning and go to work. But then there are some rotten apples who get up to no good, whole day, everyday and this gives them (the settlement) a bad name,” she said.

Another resident Shareef Abrahams had numerous run-ins with people from the settlement, especially about the illegal drug dealing and public drinking. “Our children are exposed to this activities every day and if we show that we are afraid or choose not to speak up, then we give these people power. That power is then used to continue with this sort of behaviour,” Mr Abrahams said.

He said last year a suspect was caught breaking into a house in Upper Woodstock. He managed to flee, heading straight towards the settlement. When a group of residents, accompanied by Mr Abrahams, approached the settlement, there were inhabitants who protected the suspected criminal.

“During this time, the man managed to escape over a fence. Some of us tried to search for the suspect, but he escaped and that was the plan – to keep us busy in order for this suspect to make an escape,” Mr Abrahams said.

Mr Abrahams said there were some hardworking people living in the settlement. “We know of people living at this site who are trying to make a better life for themselves, but unfortunately, they get dragged into this very bad spotlight because of what is happening in their camp,” he said.

The Tatler tried to speak to some people living at the camp, but many refused to speak to the media.

Woodstock police confirmed that they had not received any official complaints from residents about illegal activities at the Pine Road informal settlement.

However, the complaints they do receive is usually around domestic violence and anti-social behaviour. “We’re constantly visiting the site during normal scheduled crime prevention patrols and do search people who don’t belong there,” said Sergeant Hilton Malila, spokeperson for Woodstock police.

Sergeant Malila, however, said there is a house criminals reportedly frequent and where drugs are abused. “It is believed that there is a certain wooden house that all the criminals are hanging out and they smoking drugs inside this wendy house,” he said.

Earlier this year Woodstock police visited the house but failed to find anyone with drugs or who were wanted for outstanding criminal cases.

On Monday February 29, at about 10am, members of the Woodstock SAPS’ Crime Prevention Unit conducted an operation at the camp, which resulted in three arrests.

Woodstock police were alerted to possible drug dealing activities at one of the wendy houses on the Pine Road settlement. Police reacted swiftly and uncovered six plastic bags filled with dagga, 13 mandrax tablets, 15 stoppe dagga, three big rolls of compressed dagga, one packet of tik and a substantial amount of cash, all hidden inside the house.

Sergeant Malila said the estimated value of the drugs was around R10 000. “We arrested three people, two women and one man, who were inside the house, at the time when police conducted the search,” he said.

The suspects are currently in police custody, facing charges relating to dealing and possession of drugs. They made their first appearance in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court yesterday Wednesday March 2.

Woodstock police are now urging residents within the community to come forward with information that can lead to the arrest of known criminals using the informal settlement as a hide-out, and to report any illegal activity to the police.

“We want to assure the residents that all information will be treated as confidential. All information pertaining to drug trafficking can be forwarded to the Visible Policing (Vispol) head at the Woodstock police station,” Sergeant Malila said.

The land on which the settlement is located was previously owned by the provincial government’s Department of Human Settlements, however, an agreement was reached to transfer the property to the City of Cape Town to provide affordable housing.

Ward councillor Brett Herron said he met with the MEC for Human Settlements, Bonginkosi Madikizela, shortly after being elected as ward councillor and he (Mr Madikizela) agreed to transfer it to the City of Cape Town for the purposes of providing affordable housing in the inner city.

He confirmed that there is currently no dispute around the property and it is to be developed into affordable housing by a social housing partner.

Mr Herron also added that complaints received by the City consisted mostly of residents showing concerns about the nearby property values being affected by the settlement. “Some of the neighbouring property owners have complained about the impact the informal settlement has on the value and enjoyment of their properties, “ he said.

Mr Herron assured residents that the plan is to develop the site into a social housing complex and that the process has been under way for about four years. The site is to be developed into affordable housing – in the form of social housing- by the Social Housing Company (SOHCO), a City social housing partner.

“The delay has been in finding suitable and well located housing opportunities for current occupiers who do not qualify for social housing,” he added.

The City provided basic services to the informal settlement and fast-tracked the process of securing a social housing project for the site.

The City’s mayoral committee member for Human Settlements, Benedicta van Minnen, explained that a planning process for the Pine Road social housing project has already been carried out on the City-owned site.

“However, details such as the costs and construction dates, etc, are yet to be finalised and no public participation meeting has taken place as discussions are under way regarding the relocation of the people who are occupying the identified site,” she said.

Sohco are looking to build approximately 173 social housing units and electricity connections will be installed as part of this project.

“Residents from the informal settlement who qualify for social housing will be considered for the project. The City is in the process of exploring options for relocating those who do not qualify to a comparable location offering dignified shelter. The City will engage with affected parties once a way forward has been determined,” Ms Van Minnen said.

* Woodstock SAPS’s Visble Policing unit can be contacted on 082 469 3096.