Escalating vandalism has reportedly stripped bare the remnants of a vacant South African National Defence Force (SANDF) temporary accommodation arrangement on the outskirts of Polokwane. The facility reminds of a ghost town and has been targeted by destructive criminal elements the past few months since they moved in to loot what remained of once costly but now deserted infrastructure.
While SANDF response points at an ongoing process leading to the eventual demolition of temporary structures after the 2009 vacating of the set-up when recovery of all things valuable was done, sources claim that the looting of material value continues, that the facility had still been occupied up to a year ago and that the electricity was still on until several weeks back.
Expressing concern about large-scale destruction of State property due to escalating vandalism and looting, sources stressed that there was a definite difference between what the place looked like even up to a month back and the current picture.
One of the sources raised suspicion that the Army had thus far turned a blind eye to what was going on on their watch.
The village constituting 25 mobile homes having accommodated soldiers and their families on a stretch of land situated along the N1 North in the past, has reportedly being targeted by vandals scavenging the terrain the past few months for any available building material, cables and the heads of fire hydrants to be sold for scrap metal.
Although the value of the infrastructure was not confirmed through the official channel, conservative calculations based on that of second-hand units advertised for re-sale estimate the costs of the accommodation units alone at more than R5 million.
Polokwane Observer’s investigation into the situation confirmed suspicion of vandalism, allegedly orchestrated by criminals lurking around the premises at night before descending on the infrastructure.
The effects of such actions are inconceivable. Despite the tranquil surrounds and close proximity of nature due to its location on the far side of the walled-in property, the yards are now overgrown, glass from broken window panes lies scattered across the earth and in the interiors of the hulls that remained, aluminium window frames have been ripped off, doors to rooms and cupboards as well as shelving are unhinged or damaged, wall units have been ripped out, counter tops removed, door handles taken, whatever has remained of any furniture that was left behind was destroyed and birds have started nesting in the interiors. At one of the units an air-conditioner seems to still stubbornly cling to an exterior wall.
Across the facility the remainder of electricity boxes and concrete slabs are scattered around while trenches bear testimony to the remains of casing and cables. It was found that the pump station on the premises has not been spared either.
As far as could be established fire hydrant heads have since been replaced with plastic after the originals were stolen. It could, however, not make up for the kilolitres of water that have reportedly gone wasted in the process. Images captured on Friday afternoon depict water leaks having formed pools covering overgrown gravel access roads among the houses. On the far side of the property a swamp has formed, suspected to be the result of such extensive leakages. Another source emphasised that the wasted water would be for the Defence Force’s bill and caused inconvenience in the area when repair work to fire hydrants had to be performed.
One of the sources further stressed that last to go were underground cables. From the way metres of ripped cable were dug up and randomly left as is, it was evident that it was not due to recovery of infrastructure in the area but vandals who destroyed the units, he said.
After the last units were vacated movement by vehicle and an incessant banging noise in the vicinity of the housing facility could be heard at night, the source continued. It was added that until a few weeks back street lights along the gravel access roads were still on at night.
In commenting, SANDF spokesperson Ronald Maseko said the mobile homes at the army support base in Polokwane had been utilised to accommodate soldiers and their families until the end of 2009. Since the prefabricated structures have become unstable and unsafe the decision was taken to relocate the families, resulting in them being moved to alternative military bases within their area of employ. In the event everything valuable was removed from the structures, he indicated. According to him they have done away with the security element that used to look after the facility as the place was not in use.
He said the SANDF was now engaged in and almost concluding the process towards demolishing the units, adding that it could occur around mid-year or towards the end of the year.
To a question about vandalism of fire hydrants causing damage, he responded saying it was beyond their control and an issue the municipality had to sort out. He added that unfortunately vandalism was common in such environments.
Due to wear and tear to the units, he said he could not attach an exact value to the infrastructure.