Subway solutions

Gill Lanham, Mowbray

The article by John Harvey “Call for subways to be closed”, Tatler, April 28, refers.

It seems to be the general response to a problem – close it or shut it down, rather than confront the issue(s) and tackle them head-on. It is better to find a solution. There must be one or several. But please, do not simply sit back and moan, call the local press, and do nothing.

I have been involved in the four Rosebank subways since 2012. My main concern is getting domestic staff and UCT students safely under the line. We had had numerous muggings around the subways, and as I hosted foreign students, their personal safety was of critical importance to me.

Three of the subways, Burg Road, Alma Road and Liesbeek Road, are the responsibility of the City of Cape Town.

Only one belongs to Metrorail, this being at Rosebank station. We encouraged our students to use the Metrorail subway, being as there was always security on hand.

However, after a particularly bad mugging incident involving a local student right under the nose of the security guard, the situation had to be reassessed and the Alma Road subway was regarded as the next best option.

After a critical inspection, we found that invasive Spanish Broom was growing around the tracks (Metrorail issue) and completely blocked the view across the line. Furthermore, the general state of affairs around the subway was one of appalling neglect. However, the subway was being hosed down once per week, thanks to the City’s cleansing department.

Following the inspection, we came up with a plan of action. I was introduced to George Kiewiets of Metrorail by ward councillor Matthew Kempthorne. He was immediately enthusiastic and offered us a Sunday to start a “clean-up”. Spanish Broom has to be removed in a very specific way to stop regrowth. We were pointed to Patrick Hurley of Friends of the Rondebosch Common, who saw to the removal.

We then had our first Sunday railway clean-up, when we started cleaning up litter which is tossed out of the windows by commuters. From very first contact with George, until today, we have had nothing but support from him. I very soon also realised the Metrorail was a very useful scapegoat for everyone – residents, GSCID, SAPS, the City — you name it. However, my personal experience has been the total opposite.

The rubbish on the tracks is solely due to commuters lack of education, or caring, or pride. The cable theft, which causes incredible delays, is also the result of a drive for copper which neither the SAPS nor the City seems able to stem. We export a huge amount of copper – most of it stolen.

Surely the metal merchants should be receiving far greater punishments as a deterrent? People who are living in the rail reserve are desperate. The material for the shacks and the mess that surround them, comes essentially from our garbage, that which we, the public, are simply too lazy to recycle or dispose of correctly, but simply throw in our bins or put out on top of our bins for the “gleaners”, only to be “skarrelled” by the desperate. The mess or “nests” we call them, is medically known as “hoarding” and is often a sign of schizophrenia.

We have also started clearing rubble, created flowerbeds and cleaned up the weeds on the Alma subway. The Straatwerk team also do this occasionally.

For a short while, when GSCID was “new” to the job, they helped us with a guard at certain times. This however, was short-lived.

A subway needs daily checking. This the City should be doing with regard to the mainte-nance. It is not. SAPS and the Law Enforce-ment as well as private security companies should be checking regularly for the criminal element. This is not happening. A SAPS visible policing vehicle driving past is not checking. Walking into the subway is.

Most of the problems we, the public, whinge about are caused by us.

Over the past year I have got to know the issues around the homeless situation inside out. I have stood in shower queues, soup kitchen queues and worked with a number of people in the river, around the railway line and all over the show. I now cannot wish for better company.

With the greatest of ease and no effort, I managed to help raise R200 000, and have the Carpenter’s Shop ablution facilities upgraded in less than a year. All through networking. I am hoping that we can repeat the same feat in the Southern Suburbs.

The City of Cape Town and residents need to accept responsibility for this.

(Letter shortened due to space constraints)