Shacks mushrooming on pavements and parks in Phoenix are dropping property values and driving up crime, say residents.
Squatters watched from their shacks on Tuesday and Wednesday last week as ward councillor Anthony Benadie led a clean-up in the area, says Linda Mqikela, chairperson of the Phoenix Ratepayers’ and Community Forum.
There have been growing complaints about homes and cars being broken into and the theft of copper pipes, geyser valves, taps and garbage bins since the dozen-odd shacks went up in Democracy Park in December last year , she says.
She has encouraged residents to report all incidents to the police and call City Law enforcement about squatting, but they have told her that “it was a waste of time and nothing would be done anyway”, she says, adding: “Phoenix is already being neglected and residents have given up.”
A Pluto’s Close resident, who did not want to be named, said her house had been burgled four times in January.
She showed Tabletalk messages between her and the landlord, who had fixed the geyser for the second time after copper was stolen from it. She believes a couple squatting nearby are to blame.
“My home was never a target – all of a sudden they settled here and now my house is being targeted.”
There is one shack against the wall of a creche owned by Doris Njekwa who lives in Pluto Close.
Ms Njekwa told Tabletalk that she had allowed Kenneth Mervin and his partner to build the shack outside her house because “they were homeless and needed help” and she had no space in her home for them without charging rental.
She said that as a pastor’s wife she needed to help others and she had asked neighbours if they were happy to have the couple squatting there but no one had responded.
The couple were no trouble to residents and were always helping to keep Pluto Close clean, she said.
Mr Mervin said he had lived in a Kensington backyard before ending up on the streets. Ms Njekwa had a good heart and fed him and others in the community, he said.
He knows residents are accusing him of breaking into their homes and cars, but he denied being responsible. “They will do and say anything to get us away here,” he said.
Mr Mervin has started a garden outside the shack, and he said he would like to clean the canal at Pluto Close.
“I also want to give back to the community.”
Another resident, Brian Leonards, said that if residents allowed one shack in Pluto Close, more shacks would start popping up, and he feared the value of his property would drop if that happened.
Mr Benadie said that if residents saw a shack or informal structure going up at the parks or on pavements, they should call Law Enforcement immediately as they could stop squatting while the structure was still being put up.
“There is not much that can be done by the City without a court order,” he said.
Residents should log the call, to 021 480 7700, get the reference number and send it to him as soon as possible, he said.
Mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross said a team from the City’s social development and early childhood development department would offer help to the squatters and try to guide them to a homeless shelter.
“Instead of offering food and other items to street people, rather support shelters that offer sustainable care. Encourage street people to use the shelter facilities where they are able to get a meal, shower, bed and other services.”
City Law Enforcement spokesman Wayne Dyason said the City would visit the site and take action in line with the current restrictions.
Milnerton police spokesperson Captain Nopaya Madyibi said that according to their statistics, there had been no spike in burglaries in the area. Police did daily patrols in the area, she added.