’Plain parks and ‘wreckreation’

Thurston Kriel in front of a makeshift shelter and dump site in Haakdoring Park, in Lentegeur.

Several Lentegeur play parks have become little more than dumps inhabited by vagrants, squatters, drug users and metal thieves who light fires to smelt copper from stolen cabling, say those living nearby.

Thurston Kriel’s late mother’s house is up for sale, and the family fear they may not be able to sell it with the “eyesore” at Haakdoring Park across from their family home.

Mr Kriel lives a few roads away from the park, which he says has become home to vagrants and “unsavoury characters” and where children play in piles of trash.

He sent the Plainsman a list of reference numbers documenting complaints to the City, asking to have the area cleared.

Mr Kriel would like to see a caretaker hired to look after the amenity. “Like they had in the old days, so the park is kept clean. This is unacceptable: children play in the dirt; they scratch there and they can get hurt.”

His niece, Kim Smith, who lives in her grandmother’s house, said City Law Enforcement did little more than issue warnings to those they found at the park.

She said the neighbourhood’s children played near the vagrants and drug users who gathered at the park and it was unsafe as they could inhale smoke that came both from the drugs and from fires being lit to smelt copper. The children could also get hurt from pieces of glass and wire lying around.

“I open my door and this is what I look at,” she said, pointing at a makeshift shack surrounded by trash.

Veronica Mentor, an asthmatic who lives next to the park, said she had called the fire department several times to put out fires that had been lit to smelt copper.

“Law Enforcement drives up and down here and they do nothing to remove the structures and the people living there,” she said.

“This is unacceptable. Neighbours can’t go into their backyard because of the stench and looking straight into this filth,” she said.

Down the road from Mr Kriel’s house is a park in Blue Bell Street that has also been taken over by squatters.

Sulaiman Erasmus, who lives next to it, said the park had been illegally occupied for several months and he had frequently broken down makeshift shelters.

“Weekends are party time. We have to live next to the smells, the noise and the eyesore and we pay rates,” he said. “I cannot have my grandchildren play outside.”

He also has a list of reference numbers for complaints to the City, which he said had failed to yield results.

All of the complainants told the Plainsman that they were seen as the only ones with problems and that their neighbours did not stand together to jointly address the problem.

Ward councillor Goawa Timm said service complaints had been logged with various City department heads since March but to no avail.

Wayne Steyn, superintendent of the City’s recreation and parks department in Mitchell’s Plain, said they had been clearing the areas, including a clean-up at Haakdoring Park on Tuesday, but various City departments would need to work together with the councillor and the community to prevent further dumping.

With the support of communities living near Duinebessie, Disa and Agapanthus parks, they had managed to stop illegal dumping, he said.

“A coordinated process is needed to ascertain where the squatters reside and which department is responsible for a particular area,” he said.