Crime, dirt and vandalism at a building at Athlone station, which had been built to serve as a ticket office, is causing headaches for the surrounding community.
When Athlone News visited the Birdwood Road site last week, there was a strong stench of faeces, dirt, alcohol, and mould.
The walls were filthy, the floor strewn with buckets and bottles, windows were broken and there were birds nesting in the ceiling.
There were also homeless people whom Athlone police told to move on, warning them that they were trespassing and not to return.
Residents of the surrounding area say homeless people had moved into the building and that it had become a hive of criminal activity.
When it was built in 2012, it was to have been used as an extra ticket office.
But over the past few months, said Edward Dou, the deputy chairperson of the Athlone Community Police Forum (CPF), the building had become a hot spot for theft and vandalism, and those who occupied the building, robbed and threatened rail commuters and residents.
He said that the CPF had previously contacted the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA),
which is responsible for the site, but they have done nothing to remedy the situation.
“People are getting robbed (and) they feel unsafe going to Athlone to do shopping. The security agencies of Prasa don’t do anything so the neighbourhood watch has had to take responsibility and they are endangering their lives,” he said.
He said he had suggested that Prasa erect gates at the subway entrance, which could be locked when the last train left, to prevent anyone from gaining access to the property.
“The City of Cape Town and Prasa need to sit and down and discuss how they will deal with it because otherwise it becomes the residents’ problem.
“We need to address this problem. People have to come from the CBD side to this side to buy tickets and so you are exposing them to robbery. If they had a ticket box on that side they wouldn’t need to expose themselves to robbery. There aren’t even ablution facilities on that side,” he said.
Lindelo Matya, regional manager of Prasa, said they had become aware of the activities happening in the building “through various complaints by our staff and the public in general”.
When asked would be done to turn the situation around, he said a stakeholders’ meeting had been scheduled to take place yesterday, Tuesday July 25.
“Prasa Protection Services, Metro Police, Athlone CID, SAPS and Law enforcement will discuss both the joint operation to clear the building and permanent solution to security challenge in the area,” he told Athlone News on Monday.
“As Prasa, we endeavour to make our station safe for our commuters and public in general. However the scourge of crime is a national crisis we all have to deal with,” he said.
Asked if there were any plans for future use of the building, Mr Matya said “the building has to be reinstated for a ticket office”.
According to Athlone police station’s spokesperson Sergeant Zita Norman, the police conduct daily patrols between 6am and 9am for the morning peak time travel, as well as in the evening, but do not have the authority to evict vagrants from the station.
She said to stop vagrants from occupying the building, Prasa needed to apply for an eviction order.
Abdusalam Zemanay, chairperson of the Athcraw neighbourhood watch, said because they didn’t have premises to operate from, they could put the building to good use.
He said during night-time patrols, the neighbourhood watch had witnessed prostitution, and drug abuse in the building.
“It is a perfect place for burglars to run into and hide when we see them. It has become a hot spot for crime. It started with one broken window and eventually everything was broken,” he said.
“They should let the community make use of it,” he said.
Ward 49 councillor Rashid Adams, agreed with him, saying that there were many organisations which would be able to make use of the premises.
“One could use it for young entrepreneurs to start up their businesses or for social development to use for office space. Prasa needs to come to the community to ask what they would like the building to be used for. They need to start working on the problem,” he said.
Priscilla Links, 75, who has been living in the area for 60 years, said that she didn’t feel safe there anymore.
“At night vagrants come and sleep in here and you can hear them chopping down everything in here. There’s security on the station but they do nothing about it.”
She said people were too scared to use the subway.
Insaaf Moosa, who has been working in the area for three years, said she travelled to work by bus because the train was unsafe.
“The building is very unsafe. People use drugs inside there. They can at least renovate the building and make something different.
“This morning when I came, they were breaking the windows. People fight inside there as well.”
Another resident, Keanu Leonard, who has been living in Athlone for two years, said he believed the building should be rebuilt because it had been badly vandalised.
When the Athlone News tried speaking to one of the business owners, he refused, fearing the vagrants would rob him again.
He pointed to the broken glass in a door which he said vagrants had damaged on a previous occasion. During this exchange, the vagrants threatened the man, saying that they would rob him again.