R7million smart park destroyed

The multi-million rand park in Ocean View.

While the City is slamming the vandalism of a
R7.6 million smart park, the residents of Overcome Heights and Village Heights informal settlements are pointing the finger of blame at the City.

The residents say the City should have listened to them when they pleaded for the construction of houses instead of a park (“City park ‘blocked’”, Southern Mail, February 28 2018).

Just 16 months after it was launched in September 2017, the multi-million rand park has been burnt and stripped of everything of value, leaving only a heap of rubble and ash.

Village Heights community leader Aysha Davids said the City of Cape Town had not properly researched the community’s needs before they planned the park.

Before the City launched the park on September 24 2017, she said, they had met with ward councillor Gerry Gordon, and the community had insisted that housing was more important than a park. Ms Davids said the City had not involved the community in the project.

Fouzia Cassiem, a community leader from Overcome Heights informal settlement, which is situated next to the park, agreed that there was a desperate need for housing. “We were very upset with the City for wasting such a lot of money on that smart park when they could have used it for RDP housing.”

“We have been living here (Overcome Heights) for 14 years and have been asking the City to build houses on the field where the park was built, then they could move some of us over and continue building on the informal settlement.”

But the City’s Eddie Andrews said the establishment of good quality recreational spaces for children was as important as building houses.

“One cannot have the one without the other. These play facilities are important for children as it helps to develop their physical and mental health. One only needs to watch these children play to understand how much they appreciate and enjoy this recreational space. This certainly was not an ‘unnecessary spend’,” said Mr Andrews.

To this, Zahid Badroodien Mayco member for community services and health added: “Sadly, criminals have destroyed this facility and the ideal it stood for. Families no longer have a beautiful, safe place to enjoy and the children of the area now have even less recreational space to call their own. The selfish deeds of those behind these malicious crimes often affect the most vulnerable in our communities, the very people that need to use community spaces to empower themselves.”

He added that vandalism and theft were behavioural issues which affected all residents. “They’re social ills which need to be addressed speedily so that we may focus our attention on more pressing issues facing our communities,” he said.

Responding to questions about why precaution hadn’t been taken to protect the park from being vandalised, Mr Badroodien said the park had initially been protected 24 hours a day by two security guards operating in successive shifts as well as eight security guards at the nearby sports field.

“Unfortunately, mounting pressure from escalating criminality in the area eventually diminished all security measures, which led to the current state of damage and disrepair,” he said.

A combination of mob violence and gang shooting made the area a “no-go zone” – even for security personnel, he added.

Mr Badroodien said violence erupted in the area during May 2018, when the local ward councillor was held hostage over housing demands. Her car was set alight and the community threatened City staff and warned them to keep vehicles out of the area or they would be subjected to the same treatment. Sporadic violence continued for some time.

When this subsided, the mobs then focused on destroying municipal assets, he said, the prime targets being community facilities adjacent to Overcome Heights in Seawinds.

During October 2018, security guards were forced out of the area by angry crowds and their security huts were set alight. It was also during this time that gang violence in the Seawinds area increased, and the area again became a “no-go zone”.

“It was in the absence of security guards that vandals started to loot the area and stripped everything in sight. What couldn’t be stolen was destroyed by fire. Various City departments have intervened in an effort to protect the facility and maintain the park as a public open space for the community to use. There is no question of negligence from any City department; our
staff did everything possible to save the smart park,” said Mr Badroodien.

Asked what the City now planned to use the land for, he said the situation will have to be re-assessed with collective engagements from City departments, the police, community representatives and other relevant stakeholders.

“A sustainable solution must be put in place in order to allocate resources fruitfully and reduce safety risks to operational and maintenance staff. The value of public open spaces and recreational facilities cannot be understated as they contribute significantly to the holistic development and upliftment of communities,” he said.

Responding to speculation that the park had been destroyed to make way for housing, Mr Badroodien said the department could not comment on this view.

“We can, however, confirm that no written requests have been submitted to the recreation and parks department for housing in place of the park”.

Asked where children would
be able to play now that the park was in ruins, Mr Badroodien said there were three more parks in the area which were less than
300 meters away from the smart park. “The sports fields are also still available for recreation purposes, but are generally considered unsafe on account of the invasion of vandals in the community,” he said.

No arrests have been made to date.