Residents petition City of Johannesburg over illegal occupation of abandoned bowling club

News24, 20 Jan 24

Residents living around the Old Parkhurst Bowling and Soccer Club are set to raise their ire with the City of Johannesburg over the illegal occupation of the land.

Johannesburg residents have petitioned the City to intervene in the illegal occupation of Parkhurst’s Old Parkhurst Bowling and Soccer Club.

At least 80 people are living on the 8 hectares of abandoned land, with more people joining them following rumours that anyone living on the land will get free housing.

The Johannesburg Property Company owns the land, which it has unsuccessfully tendered for development four times before.

A group of residents’ associations under the Save our Spruit banner have garnered close to 3 000 signatures for a petition that appeals to the City of Johannesburg to intervene in the illegal occupation of the abandoned Old Parkhurst Bowling and Soccer Club.

The property is owned by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) and is located in the west of Parkhurst, opposite the Pikitup waste centre on Victory Road.

The entire property is 8 hectares, but only 1ha can be built on because the ground was a dumping site that was repurposed and is therefore unsuitable for building foundations on.

Chief among the residents’ concerns is the increase in criminal activity in the area, destruction of the environment around the spruit on the property, noise disturbance and risk of fire and loss of human life.

According to Ward 117 councillor Tim Truluck, the dump was covered and turned into a soccer field and a bowling club with a clubhouse before the turn of the century.

The soccer club was moved to Marks Park in Emmarentia in the 1980s. The bowling club closed in the early 1990s.

Truluck said the land was empty for several years until the JPC put it up for a developing tender in 2013.

In 2016, a WastePreneurs site – a buy-back initiative aimed at uplifting informal waste collectors who operate throughout Johannesburg – was established at the Pickitup site on the soccer club land.

In the same year, the JPC put out another tender for the property. The new tender required the winning bidder to rehouse the illegal occupiers of the land.

According to Truluck, the WastePreneurs site quadrupled the number of occupants on the land. The clubhouse was invaded and people started living in the building.

Greenside Residents Association chair Judith Ancer says the tender process for the land was stalled at the central adjudication committee, which is an unbiased group that reviews tenders.

In 2017, waste pickers began living under trees on the land directly opposite the WastePreneurs site.

Truluck said car guards and street hustlers who work up the road on 4th Avenue also moved into the clubhouse, which was already hosting homeless people and others.

He alleged that the building had since become a den of illegal activity, including prostitution and the selling of drugs and stolen goods. He said there had also been several murders in the building over the years.

The JPC made another request for proposals to develop the property on 2 February 2020. The winning bidder would be responsible for rehoming the informal settlers. Truluck said around 30 people lived on the land at the time.

The Covid-19 pandemic interrupted many of the City’s projects for the next year or so. The number of homeless people in the City increased because of job losses during lockdown.

On 28 August 2022, the JPC put out another request for proposals for the development and long-term lease of the club.

According to Ancer, a Spanish soccer club put in a proposal to develop a soccer academy on the site. She said the JPC refused the bid.

On 21 September 2023, the JPC put out its fifth request for proposals on the site; the deadline of 20 October was extended by a month.

At the time, around 80 people were living on the land.

Truluck said the latest tender again required the bid winner to rehome the informal settlers.

He said on Tuesday:

Somehow, word has got out that people living on the land will get free housing and people are busy moving in [to take advantage of this].
Mary Gillett-de Klerk, founder and CEO of the Johannesburg Organisation of Services to the Homeless (JOSH), said her organisation bid for the tender.

Its concept was to revamp the clubhouse and turn it into a homeless shelter. Then, it was going to construct prefabricated buildings that do not need foundations on the land as extra shelter for people without housing. The land would then be used as a skills development training ground and an urban vegetable garden for people in need.

Currently, only a handful of shelters cater to a fraction of the more than 20 000 documented homeless people in Johannesburg.

Gillett-de Klerk said it was “ridiculous that the City has so many properties it has allowed to go to rack and ruin” when shelter is desperately needed for the homeless.

She said the JOSH proposal would help the City rehome the people living on the site and others living on the street.

“Shelters lack the space for waste pickers to park their trolleys. Waste pickers also wake up very early to [do their rounds], often in conflict with shelter curfews. So, many waste pickers choose not to stay in shelters.”

Gillett-de Klerk said the proposed shelter would accommodate waste pickers by allowing them to park their trolleys and operating more accommodating curfews.

She said her bid did not get a receipt and questioned why the tender was extended for another month when the JPC had already received five bids.

“[The homeless] aren’t going away anytime soon. [If moved from the Parkhurst Bowling Club], they will just relocate to other parks around the City,” Gillett-de Klerk said.

Ancer told News24 that the informal residents and waste pickers at the site were not the enemy of the Greenside Residents Association.

“They are people who live on the site. The City has failed everyone by not monitoring or improving the situation for the residents and the people living at [the Parkhurst Bowling Club].”

JPC spokesperson Lucky Sindane responded to the claim by Ancer that the City had failed the residents and the illegal occupiers. Sindane responded that the property had been hijacked since 2009 and that hijacking property was unlawful.

He added:

The property is currently hijacked, and those that hijack properties must face the full might of the law. The City will continue to work with various law enforcement agencies to ensure that we deal with the problem of hijacked properties. It is essential that we bring back the rule of law in our City and take it back from the criminal elements such as landlords who take advantage of desperate people and house them under deplorable conditions.
He said the key challenge hindering the progress of the land was the legal framework and several judgements against the City.

“Furthermore, the City has a general constitutional and legislative obligation to provide Temporary Emergency Accommodation to the evicted unlawful occupiers, only to the extent that they are rendered homeless or will be rendered homeless as a result of an eviction,” he said.

Sindane said that the matter was before the court and that the City had been ordered to provide alternative accommodation “for 66 illegal occupants”.

Sindane was also asked about the bid from JOSH. He said the City was busy with the evaluation process and could not reveal who had submitted bids.

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