Enoch Mgijima is not a pleasant neighbour to have. That the sentiment of Thistledown Preschool manager, Esther Dowling, who says they have to endure rats, unpleasant smells and an occasional fire hazard from a rundown municipal building that has been left to shelter vagrants.
Thistledown, located at 10 Ebden Street, has the misfortune to be next to what, until two years ago, was known as the Chris Hani Craft Hub. The building, which is becoming akin to a haunted house each passing day, is owned by Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) which has seemingly run out of ideas on what to do with the more than 400 square meters of prime real estate.
It is overrun with weeds, unsecured and becoming run down. A cursory inspection of the property shows even an occasional fire being set inside the building.
Dowling, who oversees the care of children, says it is becoming more intolerable to be next to the estate as it has become a health hazard for the preschool.
“People used to get their proof of residence there, but the municipality has since shut that down and moved it to the town hall. It has gone to wrack and ruin. People are using the grounds as a toilet. It stinks and the smell comes to our place and the children and parents are complaining. The rats and mice that come from there are constant. I have reported it, but nothing has been done.
“Two years ago they cut the grass, but I assume they just got lazy because they left half of it and set it on fire. They had to call the fire brigade to put out the fire because it was moving towards our property. I just hope they will not do that again,” said Dowling.
The state of the building is a far cry from what it used to be when it used to host the J.C.Marshall Art Gallery. The gallery, which used to curate the town’s public art was shut down at the behest of the municipality which, until recently, used it as additional office space.
Sean Russell of Russell and Son says the state of the building is sad, because it could be used to generate income for the cash-strapped municipality.
“It is not being utilised for an income or management structure like in days gone by. It is deteriorating. Vagrants have cut holes in the fence and broken the windows. In its day it was stately and an asset to our town. It is a tragedy that it is now being abused like that,” said Russell.
“The property can bring in R30 000 a month. Lease it at least and get money to pay Eskom. To not use properties of that quality to at least raise income is an opportunity lost. The inherent value of the property is its wooden features. The fact that fires are being set is a tragedy. It will cost millions to fix it if at any stage they plan to sell it,” he added.
In reply to questions about why the property was not maintained and leased, EMLM spokesperson Lonwabo Kowa said: “It is unfortunate that the building was broken into and vandalised. The municipality has begun a process of leasing it out and negotiations to that effect are already underway. Before it gets occupied, it will first be renovated. Leasing out of properties is part of the municipality’s revenue enhancement strategy.”