For thousands of students attached to numerous universities and colleges in and around Pretoria CBD, securing accommodation in the city centre is a major achievement.
The inner city of Pretoria’s capital is also the favoured address for throngs of lowly paid South Africans and foreign nationals working in small businesses, retail outlets, government departments and the self-employed.
For many of these, however, the boon of an inner city abode close to critical amenities has quickly turned into a nightmare, as the realities of overcrowding, pests, frenzied noise levels, crime within the apartment blocks and on the streets, filth and the general neglect of the apartments and high rental fees take root.
Tshwane University of Technology second year student Tanya (not her real name) and her classmate occupy “one space”, an area demarcated by curtains within a huge lounge, which is shared by three sets of families in an apartment along Jeff Masemola Street.
“We do not know how many people stay in this two-bedroom flat. We have lost count. My friend and I are squashed into that space of ours with all our bags and utensils,” said the 25-year-old.
“What separates us from the other occupants of the lounge are very thin linen curtains. One family consists of a husband and wife, and when they get intimate, it’s for everyone who is awake to hear. The bedrooms are occupied by other tenants who can afford the privacy.
“Weekends are the worst of times. The cleaner servicing the multi-level building only work for a few hours during the week. On weekends, he is off duty.
“What it means is that if someone vomits in the stairs on Friday evening, which is a common occurrence, that eyesore will only be removed on Monday. If the cleaners report for duty.
“Their elevators have been out of service for a long time now. If you cannot afford the elegant apartments in this city, then you live in hell.”
Each of the six occupants of the lounge contributes R700 per month to a “landlord” who resides in leafy suburb and only pitches if one of the tenants defaults on payments.
The rest of the tenants, including the families with smaller children occupying the bedrooms, all contribute towards the prepaid electricity and water. The bedrooms cost R3 000 per month. They take turns to clean their unit.
At the densely populated Ultramar Building, just metres from the Pretoria Central Police Station, residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said life inside the huge building was hell.
“I didn’t know how cocaine looked like before I moved to this building. Here it is common stuff. Any drug you want, it is available. The police know it but they do nothing about it. I cannot risk my life reporting to police what they know already. Even robbery and common theft takes place in this flat. I fear for my two children every day,” said a Malawian national.
Newly-appointed Tshwane MMC for human settlements, Mandla Nkomo, said the issue of derelict buildings, which were a cash cow to burgeoning property administration companies across the city, was known to the authorities.
“The department has already undertaken an audit of all buildings which are not complying with the National Building Regulations and the city’s derelict buildings bylaw. Contravention notices as applicable have been issued, and we are now in the process of litigation at various courts,” said Nkomo in response to an enquiry by the African News Agency.
“Occupation certificates are only issued if the building are compliant with various pieces of legislations like National Building Regulations, Fire, Health etc,” said Nkomo.
“Once an occupation certificate is issued, the building is certified for occupation. If it is observed that the building conditions deteriorate, the contravention will be issued by the custodian department relevant to the legislation for compliance.”
But several residents of the city centre urged the new MMC to walk the talk.
“Property management companies do not care. As long as you do not miss a payment, they are not bothered. What is expected from government is protection. My apartment doesn’t have windows, I have used plastics and cardboard for years now to shield my family from the cold and rain. I fear that this building will fall over us one day,” said taxi driver Max at the towering Drankensberg Flat in the inner city.
Pretoria Central police spokesperson Captain Augustinah Selepe said the inner city crime scourge was being tackled.
“In terms of neglected buildings and houses within the CBD, the issues will forward to Tshwane Metro to assist. This station each month holds sector forum meetings, whereby members of the public are invited to attend and raise their concerns with regard to crime. We have four sectors,” said Selepe.
“Each sector has their own meetings which consists of police members, Community Police Forum and members of the public.
“We have also security forum meetings, which consists of flats caretakers, business owners and security of various departments in order to address crime issues. After receiving information during those meetings we are able to have crime operational plans in order to combat crimes which are identified.”
Selepe said it was a problem if the residents affected by crime did not report to the police.
“If crimes are happening and not reported, it’s a challenge. If the community have fear in reporting crimes at the station they can call our Crime Stop number anonymously at 08600 10111,” said Selepe.
Leading residential and commercial property management company in Pretoria, City Property, said while buildings within their large portfolio were beyond reproach, crime remained a reality in South Africa.
“We have a strict policy of no drugs, crime and prostitution. We encourage tenants to report any illegal activities to the SAPS and tip-offs to Crime Line. Our security and on-site building managers also reduce this to a minimum, but crime is an unfortunate reality in South Africa,” said Jeffrey Wapnick, City Property managing director.
“We do everything in our power to make sure our apartments are safe but tenants are encouraged to insure their household content as we do not take responsibility for any burglaries, fire or water damage.”
On the rampant sub-letting of apartments and overcrowding, Wapnick said they had a foolproof system in place.
“We have a hands-on approach and therefore have not experienced overcrowding. Our tenants adhere to guidelines relating to visitors and subletting and regulations of the building. No visitors are allowed after midnight unless arrangements have been made with the building manager,” said Wapnick.
“All visitors must show positive proof of ID when they complete the visitor’s register.
“For visitors staying over a period of time, a form must be completed and visitors remain the responsibility of the tenant they are visiting.
“In addition, tenants are not allowed to sublet their apartments or take in additional persons other than the occupants stated on the application form. All occupants must be registered with City Property and we regularly monitor the number of occupants per apartment.”
On the high rentals said to be pushing students and low-income earners towards unscrupulous property management companies also plying their trade in the city, Wapnick said the comfort and security they provided came at a cost.
“Rent increases on a yearly basis. We charge market-related rentals to ensure we are offer value to our loyal customers. Our properties are known for their high-standard, comfort and facilities that other properties do not have and we are proud of the properties we offer to our tenants.
“We do our best to keep rentals to a minimum. However, our properties are highly sought after and offer a safe, more comfortable environment than some other properties on offer and at times this makes them premium properties,” he said.
– African News Agency (ANA)