Hours before the announcement of Monday evening’s lockdown measures in effect declaring internal war against the Covid-19 attack, warning bells sounded about illegal land use that posed a possible health risk to the people of Polokwane as it is perceived to be breeding ground for lethal viruses and disease.
Democratic Alliance (DA) representative on Polokwane Council and member of the Spatial Planning Portfolio Committee Mariëtte Pretorius raised alarm about an ever increasing situation that has triggered growing concern about illegal occupation of spaces across the city – used for purposes other than what generally designated for – at a time when the world is fighting a deadly invisible threat to the global population.
In an interview conducted while the city already started scaling down on activities in an attempt to curb the further spread of Coronavirus and the expected announcement of stringent measures to deal with the onslaught of an invisible battle opponent, Pretorius stressed huge concern on the part of the DA in Polokwane about illegal land use across the city and how such a scourge in parts thereof could add fuel to the fire.
The problem was further underscored particularly in the light of the province being saddled with the added conundrum of porous borders targeted by a continuous uncontrolled influx of undocumented migrants not only from its immediate neighbours but elsewhere on the continent.
She used hotspots in Bok and Paul Kruger Streets where prostitution, drugs and alcohol are reportedly freely available at a rate and the corner of Marshall and Church streets where after-hour public drinking apparently occurs unabated, the matter of car washers in Ster Park abusing state resources when seemingly stealing from the city’s water resources amid looming restrictions, small business concerns and industries allegedly contravening the law by reportedly trading freely from backyards in places like Flora Park and informal caterers serving food in unhygienic conditions in the city centre as examples. She identified schools that are functioning in neighbourhoods while awaiting feedback on re-zoning applications, which she stressed was against the law that prohibited operations pending approval, as another headache.
Pretorius mainly attributed the escalating problem observed across the city to an evident lack of capacity in Polokwane Municipality’s City Planning Department, partially due to officials in existing positions being overburdened. According to Pretorius she has demanded more appointments in that section to be able to police and curb illegal land use across the city for the past two to three years, only to have been informed that two posts were advertised in the past but that no panel had been appointed as yet for the appointments to be made.
Pretorius emphasised that the situation has been getting worse over a period of time. Especially with Coronavirus spreading at the current rate, any down-town hovel persistently inhabited by local and foreign suspects respectively facilitating and trading in prostitution, drugs and liquor could carry high risk, she predicted.
To the allegations that the relevant department in Polokwane Municipality appeared to be dysfunctional due to the two vacant positions not having been filled yet, municipal spokesperson Matshidiso Mothapo responded by refuting it. During the state of the city address illegal land use was raised as a challenge, he said and added that they were putting in place measures to deal with it and as part of their approach were presently capacitating the relevant unit to ensure that they were able to deal with the issues as it arose.
“The positions of development control officers are new positions under City Planning in the Outdoor Control Division. The positions have been advertised and will be filled soon. It should be noted that the two positions are meant to deal with illegal land use in order to address the issues of illegal land use and advertisement. The additional two incumbents will be assisting to address those challenges. Therefore, with the two incumbents we will also be adding four trainees to assist the division.”
The municipality continued to educate the community and needed them to enter into a partnership with them on the issue, he indicated as he yet again requested anyone with information on illegal land use to inform them accordingly. “We try by all means to follow up all cases reported to us. We must consider the legal prescripts we need to follow on matters brought to our attention.”
Story: YOLANDE NEL