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Friday Oct 26, 2012

Joburg becoming city of ruins as historic properties fall into disrepair

There is hope, and despair, for some of the finest heritage buildings in Johannesburg's inner city. Four that have raised concern are the Drill Hall, the Rissik Street Post Office, the Marshall Street Barracks and the MOTH Hall.

These days the historic Drill Hall in Joubert Park is surrounded by illegal businesses.

The most concerning of all is the Drill Hall in Noord Street, which was proudly refurbished and restored at a cost of R10 million 10 years ago as an iconic building steeped in history. But it has since been hijacked by people purporting to be caretakers and who are collecting rent.

The heritage building is now partially vandalised, completely neglected, dirty, and surrounded by illegal businesses such as mechanics and street traders. Illegal adverts and vagrants are everywhere. There is no security or caretaker.

Its history dates from 1904 when it became headquarters of the Transvaal Volunteers, South African soldiers who fought alongside the British in the Anglo-Boer War in 1899 to 1902.

It is also known for the Treason Trial in which 156 anti-apartheid activists, Nelson Mandela among them, were charged with high treason.

The DA in Joburg has expressed concern that the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) is allowing this, and other heritage buildings, to go to rack and ruin.

"Less than 10 years ago, the city spent all this money refurbishing and restoring the historical building. We cannot believe that a heritage site building with such enormous history for the city is completely neglected by the JPC," said DA Joburg councillor Bongani Nkwanyana.

It was not clear which local government department or municipal entity should take responsibility for such neglect, he said.

The City of Joburg says the Drill Hall is a provincial government property that is being transferred to the city under the auspices of the JPC. All renovations and improvements will be a joint effort by the province and council, said City of Joburg spokesman Nthatisi Modingoane.

The Marshall Street Barracks was damaged in a fire in 2002.

A good news heritage story is that finally there is hope for the Marshall Street Barracks.

Anchen Dreyer, DA spokeswoman on public works, says R233.5m over a three-year period has been

Tallocated for the rehabilitation of the dilapidated old barracks.

"While an undisclosed amount has been allocated in the current financial year for designs and documentation for rehabilitation works, an amount of R53.1m has been allocated in the next financial year for consultants and a contractor for the commencement of rehabilitation works on the building," said Dreyer.

"This emerged from a written reply by the minister for public works, Thulas Nxesi, to a question I sent to his department in Parliament."

The barracks have been vacant and vandalised for more than a decade. In 2002, the damaged building was almost gutted by a fire.

While it is legally protected by the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, the national Department of Public Works has been negligent and has allowed the building to deteriorate to such an extent that is now practically in ruins, Dreyer said.

"The building is an eyesore in an area that has otherwise been refurbished by the private sector; with many previously abandoned buildings now being put to good use.

"It is only by highlighting the issue and applying pressure on the minister that the DA managed to get a commitment that this once beautiful building will be restored to its previous condition."

Some renovations have taken place at the Rissik Street post office.

There is also good news for the Rissik Street post office.

According to historian Flo Bird, an agreement on the fate of the post office is in the final stages of negotiations and will be decided this week.

Bird said she was told by the council that the agreement would then be signed and the development for Rissik Street would be under way.

The development lease agreement would be signed on completion of negotiations and site handed over to the developer.

There would be a six-month wait to obtain necessary approvals. Construction would take a maximum of 18 months after that.

"This is disappointing as we had hoped the agreement would be signed by the end of this month. They have been discussing it since July. We have to hope the deal won't fall through because time is money for property developers, even if not for the [council]," she said. The building has been empty since 1996. In 2002, the clock hands and bells were stolen from the tower.

Its brass light fittings, switches and wooden balustrades have been stripped.

The building, built in 1897, has been badly damaged by three fires in recent years, but renovated.

The old MOTH Hall, a derelict three-storey building, stands in the shadow of the monument for fallen soldiers on Remembrance Square, just off Loveday Street.

Once a monument to glory, today it has about 700 destitute occupants. Conditions are shocking. The building was supposed to be used as a temporary shelter for desperate people streaming into the city in search of food and shelter, and to relieve pressure on the Central Methodist Church. The building is governmentowned.

The City of Joburg did not respond to individual queries about the Rissik Street Post Office, the Marshall Street Barracks or the MOTH Hall.

The Star


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