Salt River business owners say derelict buildings along Voortrekker Road are a refuge for drug dealers, prostitutes and criminals whose activities are tearing the neighbourhood apart.
The City of Cape Town’s Problem Buildings Unit is tackling several property owners in the area, but shopowner Adrian Langenhoven says swift action is needed before the whole area goes to pot.
He battles to keep prostitutes out of the parking lot in front of his business.
“Many times, the cars pull up in our parking, and these drivers call the girls over and discuss matters in front of my business. There were even times the girls are made to show off their private parts in full view before they get into the vehicle and drive off. In what society is this okay? How can we run a business when stuff like this happens on your doorstep?”
He has seen prostitutes being dumped out of cars and fights breaking out in front of his business. His customers have also complained about being propositioned.
Salt River trader Shareef Dalwie said the neighbourhood’s rundown appearance and abandoned buildings attracted bad elements.
“It’s disgusting. Not just the women who flash their private parts to the public, but, in the open, you see people being robbed or drug deals going down, as if it is okay.
“The state of this area is allowing for these activities to happen. We as a community must stand up and say no. The City must take these owners to task and stop saying that they cannot get hold of them. Then shut down the building and send the cost to these owners – end of story.”
Sham is one of the women selling sex on Voortrekker Road. She has a tik-and-mandrax habit to feed, and she told the Tatler she and other prostitutes in the area sheltered in the abandoned buildings.
“I have been working the streets for nine years. I don’t know where my family is as I came from a children’s home. I became addicted to drugs and was introduced to a man that promised to give me drugs if I worked for him,” Sham said.
She spends nearly 12 hours a day on the street, seeing about four men during that time. She usually has sex with them in bushes behind the industrial area.
During her time on the street, Sham has been in hospital 14 times after men beat her up instead of paying her.
“People look at me funny all the time, but they just won’t understand. If I should go in for help, some of the women also gets abused at the places of safety. I have a drug habit keeping me here and working on the street is the only way I know of to feed my drug habit,”
She has been to prison for drug dealing and prostitution, but she has no intention of leaving the streets. “It’s the only thing I know how to do properly.”
JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said abandoned buildings could attract criminal elements and the situation “can spiral quickly”.
While one owner had done the minimum and fenced off their building to prevent illegal occupation, Mr Smith said it was an “ongoing process” to ensure compliance from property owners.
Problem buildings, he warned, could “lower the overall tone” of a neighbourhood and were often associated with “all manner of social ills”.
“Getting owners to do the right thing is a time-consuming and frustrating process, but we have to operate within the boundaries of the law,” Mr Smith said.
When a property is declared a “problem building” a R5 700 tariff is added to the owners’ rates account. But Mr Smith said the City had to go the legal route before doing that and cases could drag on for years if delinquent owners couldn’t be traced. The City did also not have the authority to evict illegal tenants from a private property, as that was the owner’s responsibility.
He said City law enforcement patrolled the area, but they did not have enough staff to maintain an “ongoing presence”, and, in any event, crime prevention was the responsibility of SAPS.
The Tatler sent questions to Woodstock police spokesman Sergeant Hilton Malila on Friday last week, but he did not respond by the time this edition went to print.