Despite conducting numerous operations at a Railway Road property, Woodstock police said it remains difficult to properly tackle the issues plaguing this area, mostly because they are not the owners of the land and therefore cannot take action to secure it.
The Railway Road property is owned by Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa Corporate Real Estate Solutions (PRASA CRES) and is located behind the Woodstock railway station, but has for years been left unsecured.
Due to the lack of proper security measures, the land has frequently been illegally occupied by drug addicts, prostitutes, homeless people and is even used as drug dens.
Sergeant Hilton Malila, spokesperson for Woodstock police, said while police were responding to the issues and following up on complaints, it remained hard to get rid of the problem, as the owners were failing to properly tackle the matter.
“Police have been conducting operations and responding to some of the complaints, but (the Railway Road property) will continue to cause problems for the community, because Prasa Cres are not coming to the party and taking ownership of this land,” Sergeant Malila said.
The most recent operation resulted in 55 people being arrested for tresspassing, with five of the arrests being for previously committed offences and two being rearrested for parole contraventions.
“This operation emanates from various complaints received from businesses in the vicinity of Railway Road, pertaining to drug trafficking, robberies and prostitution taking place on the open land. Documentation received from Prasa revealed that the occupants were occupying the vacant land illegally,” he added.
A business owner who only wanted to be identified as Mark, and who did not want the name of his business published, reported a number of illegal activities unfolding at the property, claiming to even be armed with footage of “drug deals” as well as “prostitutes being picked up” at the property.
He said he has watched the land being cleared by police and other role-players, only to be re-occupied later the same day.
”These people will not even wait a day, but immediately when police leave the site, you will see other people starting to erect shacks and then living on the land. When the previous land invaders and criminals are released from prison, they just return and continue to live like nothing happened,” Mark said.
“The owners certainly know this land is causing trouble for this community, but they do nothing about it. This place is a haven for drug addicts and criminals, yet, it remains open. The owners might as well send an invite to these people to keep on coming back.”
A fingerprint identification process that was conducted during the last operation proved that the area was a magnet for criminals, when it was determined that five people there had outstanding warrants of arrest, for previous offences committed in and around Cape Town.
Sergeant Malila explained that during various planning meetings with Prasa Cres and other stakeholders, it was agreed that SAPS would remove the trespassers from the premises, but Prasa Cres must fence off the area or put security guards in place to look after the site. “We are constantly in contact with Prasa Cres to keep on track with the processes of the fencing and to remove the trespassers before they start to rebuild structures. We are also visiting the site often to check if there’s no wanted criminals hanging out at the premises. Operations in the vicinity of Railway Road will continue in-order to make the area more safer for everybody,” Sergeant Malila said.
Woodstock resident, Faghri Adams, said he has heard reports of people being robbed on the adjacent train station, and their stolen property being recovered at the camp, which has come to be known as “Mascani”.
Mr Adams has been travelling with the train for the past 20 years, but more recently, started noticing the problems at the site.
“It was never this bad before, but it’s maybe because the people do not feel threatened enough that they keep on coming back. There are no strict actions and more importantly, it’s open to the public,” he said.
”I cannot understand if everybody knows about the problems at Mascani, why it’s not being closed up or shut down. Every week there are new shacks on this land. Every week there are a couple of new faces in and around the station. We know this is a problem area, yet, nothing gets done,” Mr Adams said.
The Tatler send a number of emails to Prasa Cres and also called them, but they did not respond to our requests for comment.