City plans to sell home of Durbanville scout group

The 1st Durbanville scout group premises is also home to two heritage sites: the Durbanville abattoir and an old cottage near the entrance.

More than 50 years’ worth of history, leadership and survival skills nurtured at the 1st Durbanville scout group run the risk of fading away as the City awaits council’s approval to “dispose” of the property.

The scout group, which has leased the Greenville property from the City since 1964, has been told that the premises will be auctioned off and that the lease will only be extended until the end of December this year, according to Scouts SA regional commissioner Paddy Milner.

Northern News visited the scout group this week and sat down with head scout group leader Ray Middelton to hear about their rich history and ongoing battle to hold on to their scout hall, where generations of young people have learned leadership skills and civic duty.

Founded in 1954 by the Snelling family and Reg Hepworth, 1st Durbanville is one of the oldest and most successful scout groups in Cape Town. It is home to 100 members, aged 5 to 18, who are divided into four groups according to their age: meercats, cubs, scouts and rovers.

“The purpose of scouting is to develop young people into good citizens,” said Mr Middelton. “We develop leadership skills in them as well. We also teach by physically doing things. For example, if you want to teach someone to tie a knot, we literally show them how to tie the note on their own. So knotting, ropes and poles are are just tools we use to develop leadership skills.”

Scales models of structures scouts build when working towards the Springbok award, one of the highest honours in scouting. The scouts lead a team of younger scouts to build the life-size versions: a project that can take a full day to complete.

Transferring knowledge, survival and sailing skills are constant themes at the scout group as older scouts can teach and lead the next batch of young scouts in the lower ranks how to effectively build a working sea raft or monkey bridge.

A raft the scouts are building in preparation for the annual Kon-Tiki competition taking place later in Muizenberg this month.

“The 18-year-olds would usually supervise and teach the younger kids how to build the raft and tie the knots,” he said.

Community upliftment is part of the scout group’s DNA with the Springbok award demanding that the scout spends 40 hours doing community service.

“Last weekend, we had a large patrol of our scouts helping to build a vegetable garden in Fisantekraal. So we try to help the community as far as we can and teach our scouts how different people live. We also take the kids at Durbanville children’s home and in Nyanga to the sea scout base and teach them how to sail.”

Mr Middelton said the property was once the home of the Durbanville abattoir which was built in the 1940s.

“The big scout hall along with the cottage at the top are actually classified as heritage buildings as they’re more than 70 years old. But when we arrived here in 1965, the floor was still sloped and there were hooks and rails on the ceiling. So what you see today is what we built in the last 57 years.”

Regarding the City’s plan to auction the property, he said that they had been leasing the site from the municipality since 1965.

“Traditionally we got a ten-year lease with an option to renew. Then in 2015, our ten-year lease came to an end, and we didn’t get a new lease for five years. We sat on this property without a lease for five years. We’ve paid our municipal bill every year, all our rates and taxes are 100% up to date,” he said.

Then in 2019, the City came back and said they would not be renewing the lease for ten years but would renew it for two years.

“They said that at the end of the two years we should leave because they’re going to sell the property. We’d like to make improvements to the property as we raised funds for a new fence in front, but we can’t put up a R80 000 fence and they kick us off the property.”

He said he had discussed the issue with ward councillor Theresa Uys.

“We had a meeting with her last year just before the elections and at that point she was very positive and made it clear she wanted to help. So we are trying to talk to her to see what can we do going forward”.

Ms Uys did not respond to questions by time of publication.

The scout group has meanwhile launched a public petition, “Save the Durbanville Scout Property”.

The area achievements board shows how many times the 1st Durbanville has won the Tonkin Trophy, which is awarded to the best scout groups in the province.

“We decided that we had to make the public aware that the property is going to be auctioned off as we’re going to object to the sale. We also realise we’re competing with big developers for the property. In the meantime, we’ve been doing a lot of planning, which is looking at finding a similar property on which we can build a hall on and how much it would cost us.”

Ideally they would like to stay in area due to their close-knit relationship with the community.

City spokeswoman Selleca Lang said council’s in-principle approval to dispose of the property had not been granted yet.

“Hence, the property was never submitted for auction. A decision on the appropriate transaction mechanism to dispose of the property will be considered once we receive council’s approval to dispose of the property,” she said.

Mr Milner said: “Western Cape regional representatives and the scout group’s parents’ committee have been engaging with the City and local councillor regarding both purchasing the property and querying the loss of a long-standing community-supported scouting facility, which has been improved, carefully maintained and planned for further youth camping, training, and activities.”

He said he was unaware of other scout properties in the northern suburbs being flagged for disposal at this stage.