A vibrant multipurpose centre in Port Elizabeth that was built to provide an impoverished community with free Wi-Fi, sport and play facilities, and space for a mobile clinic has been vandalised. The R18 million Siphiwo Mthimkhulu Multipurpose Community Centre in Motherwell now resembles an abandoned building.
It has been stripped of its windows, doors, roof sheets and valuable equipment in broad daylight. The vandalism started late in October, and by 22 November a group of young men were seen taking bricks from the building. Residents said there had been no security guards for a long time.
Located in section NU29, the centre was opened in November 2018 by the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements, which eventually handed it over to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality to administer. It was the only place with recreational facilities for residents.
Children played tennis and netball on two outside courts, which have also been vandalised. Their metal posts have been removed along with the perimeter fence. The smaller children who used the facility as a play centre have resorted to playing in stormwater drains, most of which are filled with raw sewage.
Motherwell is an impoverished township with limited job opportunities. Although there are two industrial nodes nearby, Markman and Deal Party, jobs remain scarce. According to the 2011 census, Motherwell is the largest township in Port Elizabeth with its population of 140 351 people.
However, the population has grown significantly owing to new settlements. For a few years now, the municipality has been relocating housing beneficiaries from across the metro to NU29.
Back where they started
Nokulunga Mti, 16, is a member of a local netball team that was using the courts for their games. She said her team would now have to use a nearby open area that is always drenched with water after it has rained.
“I am disgusted, because the community hall was helping us immensely. There are several netball and tennis teams that were using the courts at the hall. We are now reverting to where we were three years ago before the hall was built, when we played on open ground. This is detrimental to our game because visiting teams will not accept playing their away games under poor conditions while they entertain us on comfortable courts,” said Nokulunga.
Resident Mkhululi Mboma said there is no medical clinic in NU29 and patients depend on a mobile clinic that frequently visits the area. Before the centre was built, the clinic used to operate from a residential home, but problems arose when its owner reclaimed it a few years ago.
“The opening of the hall was a blessing for everybody because the mobile clinic found ample space to park, while patients could sit comfortably in the hall. I haven’t seen the mobile clinic ever since the vandalism started,” Mboma said.
“NU29 is one of the fastest-growing settlements in the metro and we deserve recreational centres for our children. We also need a hall for community gatherings. There are also three shack settlements around us with a huge population who benefitted from the mobile clinic.
“The criminals even stole four Jojo water tanks. The tanks were very important to community members who fetched water from them when there were water cuts,” he added.
Haven for criminals
Mboma lives close to the centre and said the criminals first came at night in October and broke into the offices. He lamented the municipality’s failure to provide security at the hall, a sentiment echoed by Motherwell Community Policing Forum chairperson Nomawethu Jama.
“It is the duty of the municipality to secure its structures, but this has not been happening at the Siphiwo Mthimkhulu multipurpose centre,” she said. “It was a very valuable structure, given its cost and that there are no recreational parks in the area. The municipality should have used strong perimeter barriers to secure the facility. They should have surrounded the place with CCTV cameras to deter criminals.”
A homeowner who lives close to the hall said he feared that the structure would turn into a hiding place for criminals. Refusing to provide his name, the middle-aged man said: “The hall is located at a central point, which is also a taxi rank. I am afraid that people who are dropped here at night by taxis may get robbed. The place is dark at night.
“The municipality should refurbish the hall or pull down the walls so that the area is cleared. We don’t want a repeat of what happened a few years ago when a teenage girl was raped before she was killed in one of the abandoned houses in this area.”
The man was referring to an incident in which a teenage girl was raped on her way home from a tavern. At the time, the area had hundreds of duplex flats that had been left unfinished by a contractor. The municipality eventually demolished them.
Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality spokesperson Mamela Ndamase said criminals grabbed the opportunity to access the facility while there was no security guard, adding that it had been closed in line with Covid-19 regulations.
“The facility was fully operational up until 26 March 2020. However, during the break-in, the facility was closed in compliance with the Disaster Management Act,” said Ndamase.
“We condemn these acts of crime and call on residents to take ownership of these facilities. The culprits live among the communities and are known by some residents. They must report the crime and play their role in ending the constant vandalism affecting our city.”
Police spokesperson Captain Andre Beetge said visible policing patrols in the area have been increased. He said criminals take advantage of school holidays, weekends and nights when facilities such as the centre are deserted.
“Criminals target computer equipment and other gadgets. It all depends on what they find in those places. I think the tough economic conditions are pushing people to do that. We have registered a house-breaking case and no arrests have been made yet. We are still investigating this case,” Beetge said.