Saturday, August 03, 2013

"Transgressors Will Be Prosecuted." Eventually. No, Really!

Alett Street Park is next door to the flats where I live. (Actually it should be Aleit Street park but what's a spelling mistake between illiterate friends?) There are two signs that spell out the rules of the park, and urges everyone to look after their park. It seems that the only people who don't give a damn about the park are the employees of the Joburg municipality.
If you call the number on the sign 011-375-5555 to report a bylaw violation (e.g. making a cooking fire) they refuse to log the call. Instead they get you to phone the Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) on 011-375-5819. This is the wrong number for bylaw enforcement. Instead you have to call the JMPD on 011-490-1630. I did all of this on Monday 22nd July 2013, after taking this picture. They asked me to send an email, which I did.
I reported that 4 men have been living in the park for several months. Every morning they make a cooking fire. ("No fires")
This photo shows 3 of them, and their large carrier bag they use to bring rubbish to the park, which they then sort, before removing some of it to sell. The rest gets dumped in the stream. ("No littering")
Shown here is their cooking fire, with a can of something on the boil, and a box of supplies. The wooden frame will be broken up and used for firewood. ("No fires") ("No littering") The email also pointed out that they sleep in the park, ("No sleeping") and do their laundry in the stream, which they then hang on the kids' jungle gym. I also pointed out that my wife has complained several times about this, and it has been going on for months. I sent it at 11am on Monday.
Another cooking fire, this time on Tuesday 23rd July. JMPD haven't opened or read the email yet.
Wednesday 24 July: The men have just brought a fresh load of rubbish for sorting. ("No littering")
Here they have hung some laundry on the jungle gym. Finally at 1.20pm on Wednesday, Ms Wisani Baloyi at the JMPD opens my email.
Thursday 25th July. Still no sign of the JMPD, and another cooking fire greets the day.
The fence on the left is the height of a door. Now compare it to the huge pile of rubbish next to the fence, next to the bridge where the stream goes from the park into the nature reserve on the left.
Friday 26th July. The JMPD is still dithering, and I photograph another cooking fire.
Later in the day an unidentified man (Mr Legoka Mangongwa?) from the JMPD phones to say they have "received a number of complaints" and would be "taking action", and would "let me know".
Saturday 27th July: On the left is yet another fire. In the middle, one of the men takes a short break after bringing in bags of rubbish (right) which his colleague is sorting.
Sunday 28th July: One of the men breaks off a tree branch and carries it to yet another cooking fire. Still no sign of the JMPD.
Monday 29th July: The first car tyre appears, right in the middle of the stream. And, of course, there is the daily cooking fire. It's been a week since I sent the email, and an SMS to the "Crime Line" on 32211.
Tuesday 30th July: Now there are two car tyres in the stream. Still no "action" from the JMPD.
Wednesday 31st July: Once again one of the men living in the park is seen tending his cooking fire. This is Africa, after all.
Thursday 1st August: Our customary fire ("No fires") and customary inactivity from the bylaw enforcement officials at the JMPD. I called 011-490-1630 to find out what's happening, but are told that "everyone is in a meeting". Municipal haste at its finest. I send a reminder email, and CC'd it to the Joburg Municipality PAIA contact official. I pointed out that it has been 10 days since my original complaint.
Meanwhile, the rubbish sorting continues, in the park, in full view of the public. They know they are violating the park rules, but they really don't give a damn. They just turn their faces away if you get too close with a camera.
Friday 2nd August. It's the end of the second week since notifying the JMPD, and I am getting fed up.
Here a man from the park is rummaging through our rubbish bins in the street looking for stuff he can salvage: metal, plastic bottles, etc. This is recycling, African style.
I wouldn't mind so much if they didn't use the park for their sorting area. Here they are just outside the park. The low wooden fence separates the park from the road. Why can't they sort their rubbish there?
Meanwhile, in the park itself, more washing on the jungle gym, and utensils and stuff out to dry. Nice of them to move in, uninvited.
After taking these pics I decided to call again. Perhaps they won't be in a meeting this time. Ms Wisani Baloyi tells me that a Mr Legoka Mangongwa is dealing with the matter, and he will have to contact me to let me know what is being done. Ms Baloyi tells me that complaints are supposed to be handled "within 3 days", but she can't tell me why this one has not.
I decided that it is time to find out who my Ward Councillor is. It turns out Ward 99's Councillor is Bruce Herbert, and his cell no is 083-274-3551. He also has a twitter feed at @Delta99Jozi. I send him an SMS to ask for his email address, and then send him a detailed email about the issue. I CC'd it to Ms Baloyi, who read it at 3.15pm. Still no word from Mr Mangongwa. Obviously no "Transgressors Will Be Prosecuted" by the JMPD in the park today.
Update Monday 5th August 4pm: No sign of the promised City Councillor, but Caiphus (0828031158) from "City Parks and JMPD" called to say he had just received my complaint, and would be sending some officers to investigate.
Update Tuesday 6th August 8am: Cllr Herbert arrived at the park and gave a verbal warning to the trasgressors, then phoned me to say that actually I'm in ward 98, and the Councillor for this ward is Laurette Van Zijl @lvz60 (082-330-0593) but that she has been on sick leave until very recently. The irony is that she is the DA spokesperson on the Environment. Hopefully the JMPD won't take too long to figure out where the park is. So far they have taken 15 days.


Update Wednesday 7 August: As promised by Cllr Herbert, the JMPD came during the night and arrested the vagrants. Today the park is almost back to normal, apart from the mess they 4 men made during their 3 month stay. I am planning to do something about it on Friday, which is a public holiday.
Update: By 11am there are 2 vagrants back in the park, with a lit fire and their rubbish ready for sorting. What do we do now? I send a new complaint to No wonder people start taking the law into their own hands.

The Cleanup ...

Thursday 8 August: I woke up to find a fire blazing in the park, close to the bridge into the nature reserve. Someone decided to torch the remaining rubbish left by the vagrants. It smells toxic with burning plastic, but I guess we'll just have to wait it out.
Friday 9 August: Gentle rain put paid to my plans to clean up the park on this public holiday. Fortunately the stream didn't flood and send all the rubbish into the nature reserve.
Saturday 10 August: Around 2pm I took a rubbish collection bin to the park and filled it and 2 more with junk: car tyres, firewood, metal and plastic rubbish. Two unemployed men in the park volunteered to help clean up, and the three of us got stuck in. We have cleaned up the worst of the mess, but could probably fill a few rubbish bags with smaller stuff. I'll leave that for another day. In the meantime, people have returned to the park and are enjoying it once more.

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