Salt River building a policing headache

Woodstock police say their efforts to curb crime at a Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) building have been derailed because their many appeals to the parastatal to secure its property have been ignored.

The building is just metres away from the Salt River station bridge and, according to the police, is home to criminals, drug users and prostitutes.

Businesses have complained about crime linked to the abandoned buildings in the Voortrekker Road area (“Vootrekker’s building problems”, Southern Suburbs Tatler, May 25), but Woodstock police spokesman Sergeant Hilton Malila said the Prasa building was a big thorn in their side and they had on “numerous occasions” alerted the parastatal to the threat criminal activities on its property posed to the community.

“The problematic place poses a security threat to the people that are using Voortrekker Road to and from their respective work places, because they sometimes fall prey to criminals,” Sergeant Malila said.

The police say the building is a “hot spot for drug trafficking” and have made several arrests there. There are also fears extensive vandalism has left it structurally unsound.

“The place is not safe for human habitation,” said Sergeant Malila.

Woodstock resident, Adiel Jacobs, has been robbed near the building on his way to work.

Two men with knives held him against a fence and took his wallet, cellphone and monthly train ticket.

Mr Jacobs said he had heard stories from other commuters about how they too had fallen prey to muggers using the Prasa building as a hide-out.

“Some mornings, you will see bags and cards lying around there: signs of these criminals having gone through people’s stuff,” he said.

“I once found my neighbour’s ID book and licence, as she was robbed further down the road. The criminals run to the broken house because it’s nicely tucked away behind the wall and they cannot be seen from the road.”

He said security guards at the station refused to go anywhere near the derelict property.

“I asked one of the security guards to go with me; he said no.

“When I asked him why, he was afraid of being robbed and said it was not his duty to secure that place and that there were criminals hiding inside there – criminals that would not think twice of stabbing you.”

These days Mr Jacobs uses a taxi to get to work and won’t go near the station.

Felicia Ndlovu, from Woodstock, travels to Parow each morning. She told how she had been on her way home one day when two men grabbed her as she left the bridge and stole her monthly wages, which she had hidden in her bra.

“I have seen people being robbed before at the station. I actually never thought it would happen to me, but it did,” she said.

“These men came out of nowhere.”

Sergeant Malila said Prasa should either demolish the building or post security guards there.

Lindelo Matya, a regional manager from Prasa’s property division, said they were “aware of the challenges with the building and its surroundings”.

The building would be demolished and the surrounding areas cleaned up once funding was approved.

“The premises was previously bricked up and secured on numerous occasions,” he said, but high crime levels, a shortage of suitable tenants and no money to hire permanent security had complicated things.

“Various other premises of Prasa in the area have been subjected to similar vandalism and illegal occupation. In this regard we had numerous successes,” he said.

He said the comments by Woodstock police were “unfortunate” as Prasa believed it had a “good working relationship” with them.