Squatting headaches

One of the shacks found at the infamous Mascani informal settlement on the railway lines.

Drugs, prostitution and other crime are rife in a squatter camp on Woodstock railway land, but it will continue to blight the area until the parastatal landowner rehabilitates the property.

This emerged during a meeting on Tuesday when Woodstock SAPS, Metro police, businesses and the general public considered how to tackle ongoing problems at the Mascani settlement.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), which owns the land on which the 150-odd Mascani squatters have built shacks, did not attend the meeting.

The camp – a cluster of shacks fashioned from plastic, scrap timber, metal sheeting and other odds and ends – is pressed up against railway tracks between Strand Street and Railway Street in Woodstock.
The meeting heard it would take the rehabilitation of the site by Prasa, as the landowner, to prevent squatting there.
Woodstock police spokesman Colonel Duma Ntsezo said they could raid the area and remove the squatters but more would move in within a day.

“It is occupied by people who are undocumented, and there is a lot of drug and prostitution activity here – the worst thing is that you are dealing with different people. There is no control in that particular area,” he said.

Resident Edward Mzana said he feared crossing the railway footbridge in Woodstock, even during daylight hours, because of the threat of being mugged and harassed by the squatters living below the bridge.

He said he had seen people being mugged in the area.

“The crime is terrible. There are foreigners that come here, and I always tell them to hide their valuables when they are crossing the footbridge,” he said.

Sergeant Hilton Malila, of Woodstock police, said commuters used the footbridge to get to work, but doing so was risky.

Mascani is also not a great selling point for residents of The Hub, an upmarket block of flats overlooking the camp.

The Hub’s precinct manager, Francis Ramosobela, said tenants were unhappy about the view of the camp they have from their windows.

“The people come here, they stay in the shacks where they deal with drugs, deal with illegal activities, and this is a life-threatening issue, and it becomes threatening for the tenants,” said Mr Ramosebela.

But Mascani’s proximity to the railway line also makes it a dangerous place to live for those staying there.

Sonja Carstens, United National Transport Union spokesperson, said settlements like Mascani were “a very big concern” for the union because it raised the risk of people getting hit by a passing train.

“It always enhances the risk of illegal railway crossings,” she said.

Prasa’s Neil Engelbrecht told the Tatler after Tuesday’s meeting that the agency was committed to cleaning up the Mascani area.

“It was agreed in principle that a sustainable operational plan be drafted to ensure the objective, as mentioned is met and maintained,” he said.

Ward 115 councillor Dave Bryant said it was difficult for City law enforcement to intervene in Mascani because the land was owned by Prasa.

“I have raised the issues with the Woodstock SAPS, and they are well aware of the ongoing issues. The responsibility for fighting drug dealing and prostitution falls squarely within the ambit of the SAPS, but City Metro police can assist if required with special operations, “ he said.