Johannesburg community fights to be enclosed

Residents of a northern Johannesburg suburb are locked in a dispute with their council about the erection of security enclosures to help fight crime.

The Robindale Action Group in Randburg have seen gates and palisade fencing removed by the Northern Metropolitan Local Council (NMLC) after they were deemed not to have complied with council regulations regarding applications for road closures.

The process was initiated in November 1999 when, in response to escalating violent crime in the area, the Robindale Action Group was formed to apply for security enclosures. The group canvassed for support to apply for the closure of an area covering 500 houses, starting with a door-to-door campaign collecting signatures and R500 contributions. The process culminated in the erection of steel gates and supporting fencing.

However, soon after the construction started, the process was thrown into disarray when it emerged that the application was flawed. The action group has been accused of several mistakes: a flawed road impact study, failure to obtain permission from the parents and teachers of the local school and a failure to open a four-week window period to address any objections.

The NMLC has been receiving objections since December 1999 and now estimates having 100, mostly from outside the marked area.

Edmund Wessels of the Robindale Action Group maintains that they have acted within the law and has accused the council of being “dishonest” and “arrogant”. Wessels says the security measures were erected subject to interim approval granted in terms of Section 44(3) of the Rationalisation of Local Government Affairs Act No 10 of 1998.

According to the Act, interim approval can be granted subject to an undertaking that objections will be satisfactorily dealt with and withdrawn in writing. In a statement issued by the action group, it claims to enjoy the support of 95% of the people in the area earmarked for enclosure. The legislative requirement is a two-thirds majority support.

The source of confusion appears to be two letters issued on November 15 granting interim approval. The letters are from councillor Nathan Jacobs, chair of a committee charged with hearing the application. Jacobs gave approval with an undertaking to deal with objections in “due course”.

The second letter from the council’s acting CEO, Stanley Lephunya, also gave approval, with strict conditions: an understanding that the approval was “informal”, that current and future objections would be adequately dealt with and that the gates would be kept open during peak hours.

A month later, on December 13, after Jacobs had vacated his position following the local government elections, Lepunya issued an order declaring Jacobs’s approval invalid and ordered the removal of all structures for failure to comply with his conditions. After a week of legal wrangling during which police threatened to arrest council workmen on instructions of the action group, the structures were completely torn down.

What the law says about closures
According to the Rationalisation of Local Government ­Affairs Act road closing and access restricting measures can be granted by a municipality under the following conditions:

  • The applicant must justify a need for such closure by providing crime statistics in the area concerned.
  • The applicant must outline security ­measures that have been used (bobbies on the beat, neighbourhood watch and so on) and the effectiveness of these measures.
  • The application must enjoy a two-thirds majority from residents of the area to be ­enclosed. Any objections, from within and without the area, must be resolved and withdrawn in writing or by mutual agreement.
  • A road impact study to assess impact on traffic flow must be provided.
  • The access restriction measures must ­enjoy the support of any school, church or ­businesses in the affected area, including users who may not reside in the area.
  • The restrictions must not disturb rush-hour traffic, must have 24-hour pedestrian ­access and satisfactorily accommodate emergency and essential services.

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