Residents in Somerset Park, Retreat, are hoping to get answers from Metrorail claiming that their requests for fencing at a notorious thoroughfare have fallen on deaf ears.
For the past few months residents have been trying to get into contact with officials from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) about the thoroughfare between Chad and Station roads.
The passage was fenced up and a vibracrete wall put up before but over the years the vibracrete slabs had been vandalised and stolen.
The passage is used by people to cross between Lakeview and Somerset Park, but residents say it is used for illicit activities too.
Paul Mentor has been renting a house opposite the passage for the past six months and has had many sleepless nights since he first moved in.
“There are so many people walking up and down here and many times I have seen young- sters smoking dagga and tikking at the open space,” said Mr Mentor.
“I do come out to ask them to leave but sometimes I feel too threatened to do that. This is a danger to us because we are targets. I have three children and their safety is at risk,” he said.
Dumping is also a major problem at the site.
Lester Cameron, who has been living next to the thoroughfare for 35 years, said the situation is getting out of control.
“There are guys walking past here then they stop to smoke drugs. There are people litter- ing every other day and the space looks disgusting,” said Mr Cameron.
“The other issue is our safety. I fear for my wife and my safety because criminals could easily hide behind the unkept tree here and attack us. Our property value is definitely at risk of decreasing because of the illegal activities taking place here.
“Prasa needs to do something. They need to close up and fence up. Does something bad have to happen before they act on our pleas?”
Ward 72 councillor Kevin Southgate has also been trying to get in contact with Prasa officials to address the residents’ concerns.
“This has been going on for years now, way before I became the councillor and many residents have said that they have contacted Prasa about the issue but Prasa has been silent on the matter. The last we heard, a tender was going to be put together to deal with all their fencing issues,” said Mr Southgate.
He said their reponse didn’t answer residents’ questions: “This issue could be right at the bottom of their priority list. We need immediate action from them. Criminal elements are coming through here, scaling residents’ fencing trying to get into people’s properties. It’s compromising their safety,” he said.
He said it’s not fair that Prasa are keeping mum about the issue and not coming up with solutions.
Lakeview resident Shane Joseph said he uses the thoroughfare to get to and from work.
“I walk to work in Diep River and it’s a quick way for me to get to work instead of walking all the way around Retreat station. Not all of us using the passage have criminal intentions,” said Mr Joseph.
Mr Southgate countered and said the passage was never meant to be a thoroughfare.
“There are plenty of other routes they can take. It’s not going to add to their travel time,” he said.
Retreat Residents’ Association chairperson Marcell Williams hopes Prasa will heed their call.
“Things have metamorphosed over the years. Fencing was broken down after it was initially put up by Prasa. I suggest this time around they use the palisade fencing so the problem doesn’t reoccur. It can be a relatively permanent solution,” said Mr Williams.
Zino Mihi, Prasa acting marketing and communication manager, said the parastatal has a risk prioritisation matrix whereby funding in different areas is allocated.
“At the moment, we are awaiting our capital budget allocation – to know how many of the risk areas will be tackled this year,” said Ms Mihi.
Asked how much will be allocated to resolve fencing problem, she said the tender process is being finalised and a plan will then be put in place to resolve the issue.
Responding to residents’ claims that Prasa is not concerned about the safety of the affected people, she said: “There is no truth in that – Metrorail meets with various structures in the Somerset Park area when the need arises. Metrorail has continuously been repairing fencing in the area, taking into consideration the safety aspects for not only our customers but the communities we serve as well.”
She added that Prasa does its utmost to replace or mend fencing as soon as it is damaged “Regrettably we can only do so within the confines of resources available to it.
“Fencing replacement and repairs are planned and prioritised annually in terms of urgency and necessity,” she said.