’Centre in dire straits

Chaney White, holds up two snoek, while her colleague Gabiebah Africa helps customers at their stall in Town Centre.

Traders, businesses, commuters and shoppers all agreed that crime and grime in the Town Centre were the main reasons Mitchell’s Plain’s once vibrant one-stop shopping complex was being deserted.

This comes days after the City of Cape Town, in a press release dated Monday April 9, said it had invested more than R42 million in the upgrading of the Town Centre in the past few years.

It said the revamp was done through the integration of the different spatial areas within the central business district (CBD), the provision of taxi rank facilities, a new bus terminus, three public transport interchanges (northern, southern and western ranks), and the provision of informal trading facilities.

The Plainsman spoke to Kulsum Baker, vice-chairperson of the United Hawkers’ Forum, on Friday April 13, who said it was pathetic to see what had happened in the once bustling central business district.

She said in the past decade, the Town Centre had taken a knock. “We were forcibly removed from the lanes and put in the square to have the lanes clear for emergency services, but today there are so many illegal traders in the lanes, steering customers away from our legal traders,” she said.

Ms Baker said the informal traders were given shelter and that money was invested in the Town Centre but nothing was being done to maintain the infrastructure. “They spent so much money here but they do not look after it. It does not make sense,” she said.

She said two law enforcement officers for the Town Centre was not enough.

Ms Baker said money should be spent on more security in the business area and that by-law transgressors should be taken care of.

“More must be done to clear the lanes where there is prostitution and drug trading and homeless people are sleeping,” she said.

“The market area needs regular cleaning and the drains are blocked,” she added.

Shirley Hamit, a fruit and vegetable trader, said as a single parent she was battling to make ends meet. “We are giving out more than we are making in a day,” she said.

She said about a year ago, she would go to the market for fresh produce every day but recently she could only afford to go once week, because her goods were perishing and not being sold.

Out of desperation one day, Ms Hamit said she went to trade in the lanes and was able to make R3000, just selling avocados. “I don’t mind working with the City but they must do what they say they are going to do and work hand-in-hand with us,” she said.

Ms Hamit said the traders were doing their bit to stomp out drug dealing and had been successful in closing down an outlet, through marches and constant reporting to the police.

“It is joy for me to be here but it saddens me to see what is happening here today,” she said.

Another stallholder, Edward Thomas, from Eastridge, said his mother Sophia Isaacs, 85, used to sell clothes and novelty items for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “There are many people, who don’t belong here,” he said. “They don’t have permits, they don’t pick up after themselves and they take up more than their allocated space,” he said.

Mr Thomas said they were promised bins but nothing had happened. “We must make it safe for ourselves. Law enforcement officers are rude to us. They are only interested in your permit. Nothing happens here. Business is not what it use to be. We want more law enforcement to clean up the Town Centre,” he said.

Sheikh Moegammad Colbie, imam at Town Centre mosque, said they had sent proposals to the City but received no reply. “We requested litter bins to be placed in the Town Centre as part of an awareness campaign to keep the Town Centre clean and committed ourselves to hosting focused talks and weekly sermons,” he said.

The mosque had also wanted to engage with businesses, to invest in trees, which would be placed in front of their stores and for which they would be individually responsible.

“We encourage the City to be more firm about the increase of vagrants in and around the Town Centre, and to find positive and acceptable solutions to the problem,” he said.

Hassan Sattar, secretary of for the Al Ikhlaas Islamic Foundation Trust, said they had also asked that areas of the Town Centre be fenced, to have dedicated entry and exit points to limit crime.

“We don’t get the support from City, who should be taking the lead but are shirking their responsibilities. The Town Centre has been neglected by the City. They have to address the issues of security and cleaners. These are all cosmetic changes but it has not resolved the issue,” he said.

Mr Sattar said traders and customers had to work together to get the Town Centre to its original status.

In a response to the Plainsman’s question as to how specifically the more than R42 million was spent on the Town Centre, Eddie Andrews, the Mayco member for area south and ward councillor for Ward 78 (Westridge and parts of Portland) said the upgrade in the Town Centre in 2010, was a project which took 20 months at a cost of
R31 million; construction of the northern terminal parking area for the Mitchell’s Plain Public Transport Interchange (PTI) was at a cost of more than R7.5 million; and the supply of telecommunication materials and equipment for the PTI Wi-Fi projects in 2016 at a cost of R4.4 million.

He said the City had followed a multi-disciplinary and transversal approach to ensure that the trading spaces at the Mitchell’s Plain Town Centre were safe and maintained.

“The City does undertake regular law enforcement interventions across area south which includes the Town Centre, and together with other City departments, prioritise areas where specific interventions are required,” he said.

He said City officials recently met with representatives of the Town Centre to collectively identify and address urban management issues. Some of the topical issues discussed at the meeting related to illegal occupation and use of public spaces, homelessness, general lawlessness and by-law contraventions, the sale of illegal goods and services, and drugs.

The City’s representatives highlighted the requirements of the relevant by-laws, addressed what could and could not be allowed to take place, together with requirements relating to formal businesses, informal businesses, health, cleansing and solid waste, fire safety and building regulations.

Mr Andrews said all representatives undertook to take pride in “their Town Centre” and to work together to create a safe, convenient, seamless environment for public transport users; a safe and pleasant environment for shoppers; a comfortable space to accommodate as much informal trading as possible in a prime location; and opportunities for further retail development.

He said the community and the traders had a responsibility to assist the City in maintaining and keeping the area clean and to ensure that traders complied with the necessary municipal legislation.

He said various City departments had contributed to the upgrade of the Mitchell’s Plain Town Centre over a number of years. “Creating a safe economic environment is an important incentive for local economic growth. It also showcases that the City is serious about maintaining business spaces,” he said.

Mr Andrews said informal trading infrastructure was improved, which included public spaces and landscaping, as well as construction of a pedestrian bridge and the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

However, big chain stores have left the Town Centre, including The Foschini Group (TFG), Pick * Pay, Woolworths and Clicks.

The manager of a local shop, who refused to be named because of business protocol, and who had been working the Town Centre for 20-years, said there are many misdemeanours being overlooked by the authorities. He recalled the Town Centre being the place to go for a stroll and coffee at night. He said vagrants and the homeless should not be sleeping in the Town Centre and that law enforcement operations in the Town Centre were non-existent.

More than 650 Plainsman Facebook page followers responded to a poll in which we asked whether they still shopped at the Town Centre. By noon yesterday, Tuesday April 17, we received 652 votes. Here are some of the comments:

Carmiella Carelse said it was cheaper than other shopping centres.

“It’s not that bad in Town Centre. There are bargains for veggies as it is cheaper. Yes, it becomes packed with people but I love it. To see the people full of energy at the stalls shouting out how cheap the veggies are.

“Nothing bad has ever happened to me and I hope nothing will. I’m sorry for what happened to the other people, it’s sad to read what people say about our old Town Center.”

Abdullah Black said: “People are being robbed on a daily basis, losing their hard-earned valuables and money.

“Drugs are being sold in broad daylight while securities are taking bribes as little as R5 from foreigners. While police are patrolling they would turn a blind eye towards the crimes being committed.”

Nabs Sterris said: “It’s sad that what once was the pride of Mitchell’s Plain has become a place that most residents would avoid.”

Danielle Nel said: “Town Centre is also helping small businesses grow and provide for their families. The police need to be more visible to aid in the prevention of crime.”

Hadjira Sydow said: “It’s a hidden gem. Should be promoted more often for it’s positive vibe, rather than dwelling on the negativity.

“Yes, there are some unsavoury characters about, but you find them around every corner, whether in Cavendish, Promenade, Canal Walk, etc. They just appear in different costume. So let us not be too quick to throw in the towel. You still get the best deals, and not to mention best koesisters. So I’d say, give it another chance. We are too hasty to give up.”

The poll will be available for readers to vote and comment until tomorrow, Thursday April 19.