Bertrams waits for nip and tuck

Bertrams, a run-down suburb adjacent to Ellis Park, has been set for a facelift from the day that South Africa was awarded the football World Cup.

Ellis Park, in the heart of Johannesburg, will host five first-round matches, a second-round match and a quarter­final. With only 734 days to go, little change can be seen in the area. 

Overflowing buildings, broken doors and gates, children running through the streets—Bertrams is overcrowded and an over-rented area because of its close proximity to the CBD.
Refugees, South Africans and drug dealers live side by side.

Johannesburg Development Agency’s (JDA) marketing and communications executive manager Sammy Thamsanqa Mafu said there are legal problems in the area that have hampered the proposed development.

“We have started with the road infrastructure and paving the streets as well as putting into place new street lights.”

Sipho Zulu (25), who works as a forklift driver in Germiston, said he paid R400 for the small room he is renting in the area. “The smaller the room the less you pay.” Zulu, like many others, rents from slumlords who do not necessarily own the property. Caretakers collect money for property owners or slumlords.

Drugs dealers are a problem in the area but some residents feel that they have now left. Zulu points down the street showing where drug dealers operate. “If you go to that corner you can ask them about the drugs, I don’t do drugs.”

Further along the road sits Sibongile Buthelezi, braiding Ntombi Msibi’s hair. Buthelezi works nights at a meat-packing factory. She shows me the room she has been renting for the past eight years. It forms part of a house that has collapsed on one side and is barely standing on the other.

“They came in March with forms and papers about taking a flat in town, but we have not seen them since. More then 10 of us sleep here.”

Msibi lives a few streets away from Buthelezi and works as a plumber. She lives in a room that was built behind a house and pays R570 in rent.

“I’m paying a lot of money and there is no electricity. Every month I pay and I still have to pay for paraffin. If you want a nice room with hot water and electricity you pay R1 000 or R1 200, that’s how much I earn a month. One day you’ll find me on the street.”

Msibi says that to cook, residents have to make fires on the floor. “Just imagine being in Johannesburg and 2010 is around the corner, and you have to still make food on a fire.”

“No one has come to ask us about leaving or moving to another area.”

Agmat Badat, senior development manager at the JDA, said the city is not a big landowner in Bertrams and that the JDA had to identify specific areas for upgrade.

“The number one priority is the area between Bertrams, Berea, Gordon Road and Liddle Street. We have purchased all the buildings in that area. There are seven heritage buildings on that block and we are now waiting for heritage approval to begin demolitions.”

Badat hopes that in the next three to four months it will get approval so that it can fast-track the demolitions and the building of new housing blocks.

“We spent about R24-million purchasing the land and another R8-million relocating residents to the BG Alexandra Building in town. There is an urban management team in place in Bertrams and Pikitup will take over at the end of June.”

Windows and doors are bricked up to prevent squatters from returning to buildings that have been vacated. Security patrols make sure that this remains so. Residents have either moved elsewhere or are making use of the temporary housing in town supplied by the JDA.

“The incentives are that we have agreed to pay their deposits for a place at the BG or, if they find their own place, we transport their goods. If they leave the BG they can keep the deposit to use for another place. The BG is not permanent accommodation but there are child-care facilities and a mobile clinic in the building.”

JDA’s Mafu said the process of uplifting the Bertrams area is not linear and that 2010 is a catalyst for development and not the “end all”. The prioritised areas are also part of the World Cup security zone and it is unlikely that residents will be able to stay in the area before or during that period.

Aiming sky high
Adjacent to Bertrams and looking out over Hillbrow is Ponte City. Built in 1976, the building has 54 floors and is 185m high. Ponte was one of the most sought-after residential blocks during the 1980s. The cylindrical column has unrestricted views across the city and since the election in 1994 has become home to thousands of immigrants from Africa. Like the rest of Hillbrow, it attracted its share of crime and developed a reputation as a dangerous place. Unused parking levels were popular with prostitutes and their clients.

In May 2007 Ponte changed ownership and a re-development project ‘New Ponte” has been put in motion with Investagain as the developer. Investagain bought the building for R170-million and plans to spend R150-million refurbishing it.

The new Ponte will contain 467 residential units; a retail floor with an upmarket restaurant, a supermarket, a state-of-the-art gym and wellness centre, speciality shops, cafes, a gigantic children’s play area, a climbing wall and ample parking.

Part-owner and developer David Selvan explained the first half of the building project is 90% complete.

‘The first 22 floors, which include the residential apartments, are complete. We had to strip them and were left with a concrete shell. We had to redo everything, and the finish is granite tops for the kitchen, wood and porcelain-tiled floors and marble bathrooms. The apartments are fully furnished. They cost between R410 000 to R920 000. One penthouse has been sold so far for R5-million but they are really not on the market yet.”

‘We have signed a mandate with Pam Golding as our estate agent and this is one of its first big buildings moving into the city centre.”

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