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Thursday Dec 20, 2012

Zim consulate reclaimed from squatters

The building which once housed the Zimbabwean consulate in Zonnebloem, Cape Town is being renovated.

The old Zimbabwean Embassy in Zonnebloem has been dilapidated for some time.

It is understood the Zimbabwean government is paying for the renovations so that the building can be used for office space. It is not yet clear whether the building would again serve as a consulate.

The building on the corner of Kuyper and Service streets has been subject to two court cases.

Afriforum took the Zimbabwean government to court in a bid to have the property attached to compensate farmers whose farms were seized during the country's land grab since 2000.

The court, however, ruled that the building had "diplomatic status" and as a result could not be attached.

In 2010 the consulate became the first derelict building in Cape Town to be closed under the city's Problem Building by-law. By then, it had been vacant for more than a year.

The city deemed it a health risk that was potentially hazardous. Neighbours also complained that the building had become a haven for criminals. The by-law suggests that consultation with the owners of the building, in this case the Zimbabwean government, should take place to restore the building. The city says it was forced to take the Zimbabwean government to court in an attempt to recover money spent on securing the building.

Since 2010 the city has spent more than R200 000 securing the building and providing on site security guards to keep out vagrants.

"At first we thought it would be sufficient to board the building up. But, vandals stripped and stole the metal sheeting that was used to block access. Security expenses ran to about R27 000 a month. A few months ago, the decision was made to remove the security due to this expense and vagrants again moved in on the building," said Gavin Oliver, head of the city's Problem Buildings Unit.

A worker on site told the Cape Argus that they had to "chase squatters out" before they began renovations.

"We aim to be 100 percent done by early February," he said.

Shireen Westman, a neighbour, said that the renovations were welcome. "I can't say that I ever had problems with the people squatting there. They mostly kept to themselves. But it is such a nice building. When it is properly renovated it will uplift the whole area and even improve our own property prices."

Afriforum won another court case over a building owned by the Zimbabwean government in Kenilworth. The court ruled that the asset was to be "attached" to compensate Zimbabwean farmers who fled their home country.

Cape Argus

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