‘Problem house’ must fall


Residents of Lakeview in Retreat are threatening to demolish a derelict railway house at 79 Nyasa Road, if the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) does not upgrade it.

The house is occupied by alleged gangsters and drug addicts.

Over 200 residents signed a petition and sent it to Prasa on Thursday February 18.

They say their lives are in danger after the house caught alight several times last year.

The residents claimed they have had endless problems with alleged criminal activities at the house, such as assault, sexual abuse and robberies, since it became vacant four years ago when tenants moved out.

Many of these criminal activities have not been reported as “people are scared because they are protecting their children”, said resident Sharon Snyman Vanmeer.

Warrant Officer John Bartlett, spokesperson for Steenberg police, said they were aware of the vacant house and that it had been set alight twice in December.

He said since then they have been doing regular patrols, day and night in Lakeview.

“The community must inform the police if they see any suspicious characters, so that we can investigate,” Warrant Officer Bartlett said.

Residents of Nyasa Road and their neighbours told Southern Mail they want the house demolished because it is not fit to be occupied.

Ms Vanmeer, who has been living in the area for 10 years, believes people from all over, such as Lavender Hill, occupy the house to sell drugs. The house was on fire twice in December and it affected the neighbours’ houses, but no one was hurt.

Ms Vanmeer said if it happens again they may not be so lucky.

Reginald Thomas Booth, who was one of the first people to move in to Lakeview more than 20 years ago, said the house was fine four years ago.

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But two years later, gangsters attacked the security guard and eventually took over the dilapidated house.

Angelo Burke, also one of the first residents in the area, said he has seen the occupants rob many men and women walking to the station.

“I have to walk with my mother to check if she is safe early in the morning,” he said.

Mr Burke said when he moved in the area it was peaceful and he is “tired” of having to face these regular robberies.

Rachel Petersen, who has also been living in Lakeview for 20 years, said crime increased when the house became vacant.

“In the past, our area was quiet and we could go to the shop at night.”

Maria Klinkenberg said her nephew went to the shop a few weeks ago and he was robbed. They assaulted him with unknown weapons and blinded him. Since then the shops are now closing at 8pm.

Ms Vanmeer said: “They have to do something before a murder is committed in our area.”

Opposite the residences is a beautiful lake but Ms Vanmeer said vandals have destroyed the view by spraying graftti on the white walls of the structure on the side of the lake.

She said despite the crime and destruction, the residents are sticking together. “Our community is great. We are looking out for each other. We have tried the legal way to speak to PRASA about demolishing this house and they immediately responded to our letter. They hand delivered a response letter to use, which stated: “PRASA is in the process of selling the property and is considering a number of applications. PRASA will in the interim assess the structural integrity of the house and should it be found to be unsafe, recommend that it is demolished. Alternatively, PRASA will arrange for all openings giving access to be bricked up.

“Note should be taken that PRASA, as a state entity, have standard procedures to be followed in respect of the above actions. We, however, give the assurance that the matter will be dealt with as expeditiously.”

She said they had spoken to ward councillor Kevin Southgate, before they met with PRASA but they have had “no response”.

Southern Mail gave him a call to confirm and he said: “I’ve visited the residents of Lakeview on one or more occasion and engaged with the community members. I’ve written a letter to PRASA for urgent intervention. This house is a catalyst for crime and anti-solicial behaviour. Either PRASA must demolish or renovate the house and rent it out otherwise there will be serious problems. It was told that young people have been seen going in there. Complaints came from Somerset Park, next to Lakeview, where there is foot traffic through a path where a fence was broken. Therefore, I think one cannot look at the derelict house in isolation (which attracts crime) and the impact it has on the community.

“This is a serious problem and the community has taken responsibility for the area. Not only must they start a neighbourhood watch they must get support from relevant PRASA officials to take action and have the house demolished.

“I don’t blame the community for taking action because they have been patient long enough. It is clearly a huge negative impact on the community. God forbid if a murder takes place.”