National 16.8.2016 11:36 am

Squatters return to abandoned club after demolition

Paul Fouchee at one of the trees where squatters are now living. Picture: Pretoria East Rekord.

Paul Fouchee at one of the trees where squatters are now living. Picture: Pretoria East Rekord.

For almost 10 years, the valuable but dilapidated property in the upmarket area has been a refuge for squatters and drug users.

Demolishing a derelict clubhouse at an abandoned tennis club in Pretoria east has failed to rid the area of squatters, reports Pretoria East Rekord.

Several of them have moved back to the property in Bronkhorst Street and are now sleeping under trees in makeshift tents, while others were living in hastily-constructed shelters.

This was confirmed during a visit to the club last week with Brooklyn Community Policing Forum (CPF) chairperson, Paul Fouchee.

Fouchee said: “The next step will have to be to fence off the club grounds properly and to get rid of the bedding and other belongings of the squatters.”

For almost 10 years, the valuable but dilapidated property in the upmarket area in Nieuw Muckleneuk was more than an eyesore. For surrounding residents and businesses, it was also a refuge for squatters, drug users and alleged drug dealers and other criminals.

The discovery of the body of a young man who had died on the tennis courts from an overdose of the street drug nayope earlier this year, seemed to have been the final straw.

At least two late night police raids by the Brooklyn police – the second involving the Tshwane Metro police – were embarked on in an attempt to the rid the club grounds of its illegal occupiers.

Both nights, some 50 squatters were rounded up by the police, who also seized bags of drug needles, drugs and suspected stolen goods. Many of them were foreign nationals without legal documents, mainly Zimbabwean.

Fouchee participated in both police operations. He has, for years, been complaining about the safety and health hazard posed by the invasion of the grounds by squatters and alleged criminals. Fouchee expressed his gratitude to the metro for demolishing the clubhouse.

The squatters said they only wanted to be left alone. “Please leave us alone. We need work and a place to stay,” said one of them. He would not identify himself except to say he was South African.

Asked where they get water and where they perform their ablutions, he said they used a nearby mall.

Another squatter said he was a Zimbabwean and did not have legal documentation to be in the country.

Tshwane Metro spokesperson Lindela Mashigo earlier said the metro would demolish the clubhouse as soon as money became available.

Demolition started last month. By last week, the clay tennis courts were the only signs left that the property had once been a sports club.

Brooklyn police spokesperson Captain Colette Weilbach on Monday welcomed the demolition of the structures, but bemoaned the return of the squatters.

She said the area around the tennis club had been a crime hotspot for several years because of the presence of drug users and pushers. “The building has now been broken down but that does not mean that we will sit back and do nothing,” she said.

“We will continue with our crime prevention efforts in the area and keep a close eye on developments at the sports grounds.”

The ownership of the property had been the topic of a court dispute since 2006 when the Tshwane metro sold it to a private development company. Problems with the transaction eventually ended up in the high court in Pretoria where the issue was still continuing. The court dispute resulted in neither the Tshwane metro nor the private owners taking responsibility for the property for many years. This has resulted in it falling into decay and to become a hangout for drug users, pushers and squatters.

Caxton News Service

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