Vandals thwart efforts to revive Marion Institute

The Marion Institute in Chapel Street, District Six was burgled and vandalised twice during the festive season.

A woman who is trying to revive the old Marion Institute in District Six says it’s disappointing that the police have still not arrested anyone in connection with the vandalism and theft at the building over the festive season.

Tania Kleynhans-Cedras, who describes herself as the Marion Institute’s executive member, said the double-storey Chapel Street building had been vandalised during a break-in on Thursday December 28 last year and then again on Tuesday January 2 this year.

Ms Kleynhans-Cedras said the building had been vacant for two weeks before the break-ins, but it had suffered extensive damage – tiles were torn off the walls, circuit breakers were pulled apart, sinks and basins were broken and furniture was damaged. Furniture, a fridge, a microwave and a desktop computer had been stolen during the break-ins, she said.

Ms Kleynhans-Cedras said she and her committee wanted to repair the building so it could be used as a social centre to help marginalised women of colour.

According to documents by Rennie Scurr Adendorff Architects, the firm that did a heritage assessment of Chapel Street last year, the Marion Institute was formed in 1916 under the sponsorship of Marion Tryst to take care of women and children in District Six. It also formed two scouting groups in District Six. It had a night school that taught girls singing, music and dancing.

Ms Kleynhans-Cedras said that in more recent years, as a non-profit with branches in both District Six and Bridgetown, the Marion Institute had run a seniors’ group and nursery school at the District Six branch and indigenous learning and social development programmes at the Bridgetown branch.

Ms Kleynhans-Cedras’s attorney, Tim Dunn, said she and four others had won a 2021 case in the Western Cape High Court, giving them authority to run the Marion Institute’s branches in District Six and in Bridgetown. The court, said Mr Dunn, had also interdicted eight respondents from entering the premises and interfering with the work of the Marion Institute.

Mr Dunn said the court case had come about because those who had been in control of the Marion Institute previously had not wanted “fiscally responsible people” to run it properly.

Mr Dunn said Ms Kleynhans-Cedras and her fellow committee members were trying to fix up the District Six building and pay off the institute’s debt, and they also wanted to prevent the illegal occupation of the District Six building. Mr Dunn said squatters had been legally evicted from the building last year.

Ms Kleynhans-Cedras said some people wanted to stop her from rebuilding the organisation.

“I want to pursue justice and help restore the integrity of the Marion Institute,” she said. “I am also disappointed that the Cape Town police could not make any arrests on these crimes.”

Cape Town Central police chief Captain Ezra October confirmed that cases had been opened in connection with incidents of burglary and vandalism at the building on December 28 and January 2.

“This case is investigated by Cape Town Central,” he said adding that the Marion Institute fell under a “trust“ and there was ”currently an outstanding Western Cape High Court matter pending“.

However, Mr Dunn said no such trust could be found concerning this matter. “The high court case is not ‘ongoing’ as it has seen no further action since February 2021,” he added.

And when provincial police spokesman Warrant Officer Joseph Swartbooi was asked about the break-ins at the Marion Institute, he said they had “allegedly happened between Tuesday January 2 and Monday January 8” – different dates to those provided by Captain October and Ms Kleynhans-Cedras. He also said suspects had fled with sewing machines, but Ms Kleynhans-Cedras said she had not reported the theft of any sewing machines.

Ms Kleynhans-Cedras said that the Marion Institute branch in Bridgetown had also been burgled six times over six weekends last year. This was covered by the Athlone News, the Tatler’s sister newspaper (“6 break-ins over 6 weekends at Bridgetown centre,” Athlone News, April 20, 2023).

She said she had placed extra locks on the property in District Six to prevent further break-ins.

District Six Neighbourhood Watch chairwoman Ursula Windsor said it was concerning that the building was empty.

“The building could attract squatters, which will bring undesirable elements into the area.”

Toilets and basins and basins were broken.
The wires in the electrical distribution board were pulled apart.
The office in the building was ransacked.