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Thugs take over Pretoria central

File Photo
File Photo

Anger has mounted among motorists in Pretoria central due to abuse by self-appointed parking attendants, extensive road closures, deficient parking spots, and the towing away of vehicles by the Tshwane metro police.

On Thursday, some motorists blamed the Tshwane metro for implementing "haphazard" street construction without considering the resulting traffic congestion and its economic impact on motorists.

Pensioner Eleanor Pletor, 65, says on many occasions she has had to cancel important appointments in the city centre because of traffic gridlock and harassment by touts.

"For most of us, Pretoria central has become a no-go area. The Tshwane municipality started it all when it initiated arbitrary, thoughtless road renovations in every direction of the city," she said angrily.

In August, she was mugged by a group of "parking marshals" as she negotiated for a parking spot near a bank in Church Square, in the heart of the city. Her cellphone and money were taken. She did not report the matter to police.

"One can never find parking at the SAPS Pretoria central. You leave your vehicle illegally parked outside the station, or anywhere in this city, Tshwane has a fleet of tow trucks which hastily take your car away," said Pletor.

Since last year, major streets in the city centre have been closed for the ambitious bus rapid transit (BRT) system, causing daily traffic gridlock.

Brenda Mojapelo says she needs a male relative to accompany her when she drives in Pretoria central. On many occasions she was forced to pay the thugs who barricade major streets with cones and construction site markers.

"In this city, everyone can block a street and demand money. I know the metro cops are aware of it because I have seen these touts opening the way for marked Tshwane metro police cars. They blocked me and the metro officers turned a blind eye," she said.

"Tshwane's focus is not on us, the ratepayers. Pretoria central has become non-accessible, it's like a form of apartheid. The municipal police only clamp cars and issue tickets."

The traffic is worsened by faulty traffic lights, some of which have been replaced by stop signs. Traffic lights at the corner of Minnaar and Paul Kruger streets have been sealed off and stop signs have been erected by the municipality.

Sello Mbedzi questioned the city's developmental priorities, saying the millions paid towards the aborted Dinokeng Tribe-One music festival could have dramatically improved services in the capital city.

"How does a city which cannot provide street lights throw our money to Nicki Minaj? I have stayed in central Pretoria for two decades and have seen the rapid decline of service delivery under mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa's control.

"Our streets are festering with uncollected rubbish. When you drive in Pretoria central you are at the mercy of taxi drivers, parking marshals, and the road closures," said Mbedzi.

Some motorists complained of Tshwane municipal buses parking along busy streets to pick up or drop passengers. Several buses park in Pretorius Street for hours.

Justice Project SA chairman Howard Dembovsky says the Pretoria traffic situation is a nightmare.

"I have personally experienced the gridlock while trying to get to court to testify. If I had to deal with it on a daily basis I sincerely doubt I would be able to," said Dembovsky.

"The monumental scale on which these roadworks have been undertaken, without phasing them, can only be described as being insane."

He says at the peak of the traffic gridlock, motorists are "left to their own devices to get through the mess" and this has led to, among other things, people driving on the wrong side of the road and failing to observe the rules of four-way stops.

"I fully concur that parking in Tshwane is not only deficient but practically non-existent. This is somewhat surprising in light of the enormous amount of government departments that are based in Tshwane which members of the public have a need to visit and I have not seen any park-and-ride solutions being provided by the city," says Dembovsky.

Regarding the "informal car guards", Dembovsky said it was unacceptable that law enforcement authorities, particularly the metro police, allow them to operate freely.

"These thugs do not ease the flow of traffic, nor do they provide a legal parking solution service. What they do is to intimidate motorists into paying them, and apparently pay off the metro police since they direct people to park illegally and in return for a fee, keep traffic cops from issuing infringement notices for illegal parking on, among other things, sidewalks.

He says the municipality turning a blind eye to the problem can not be viewed as "allowing entrepreneurs to operate".

"It is quite simply turning a blind eye to criminality."

Dembovsky urged the municipality to intervene and address the situation.

"In all honesty, I view the City of Tshwane as a city being ruled by criminals and administered by incompetent and often corrupt officials."

"All of this is contrary to the duties of a metropolitan municipality in terms of the Constitution and is tantamount to maladministration," he said.

Tshwane municipal spokesman Lindela Mashigo apologised for the inconvenience to motorists.

"Motorists' frustrations are understandable and the city wishes to sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused to date. It has not been an easy [city rejuvenation] project taking into account the traffic and pedestrian volumes involved," he said.

"We trust that the residents will soon experience the benefits to follow once this project is completed."

Regarding the self-appointed parking attendants, Mashigo said the metro police were aware of the problem and regular operations were underway to remove the touts.

"We are engaging the department of justice on how best to deal with such obstructions permanently because the self-appointed parking attendants reappear after having been removed," he says.

Metro police will continue towing away illegally parked vehicles. Tshwane bus drivers are obliged to comply with municipal laws and should be held accountable for transgressions, he said.

"We are experiencing major challenges as the area demarcated for buses gets utilised for parking [other] vehicles thus creating problems for buses to pick up and drop passengers," Mashigo says.

Two construction projects are underway in the in the inner city -- the Tshwane bus rapid transit project and Operation Reclaim.

The "projected time frames" for the completion of the construction are:

-- Boom Street to Struben Street -- Dec 2014;

-- Struben Street to Johannes Ramokhoase Street -- Feb/March 2015;

-- Johannes Ramokhoase Street to Madiba Street -- Dec 2014;

-- Madiba Street to Pretorius Street including Church Square -- March 2015; and

-- Pretorius Street to Nana Sita Street -- to commence later in 2014 or early 2015. Residents will be informed when the construction commences.

But, Mashigo warns, "considering the rainy season we are facing ahead, construction might be delayed by weather conditions, discovery of unidentified services, and the discovery of heritage artefacts".

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