Labiance residents say crime is rising in their neighbourhood and the state-owned railways company is partly to blame.
About 100 people held a weekend protest march against crime and called on the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to fence off the railway line next to their homes.
Without a fence, they are argue, they are soft targets for criminals using the dark railway land to creep into and flee from the neighbourhood undetected.
After appealing in vain to Prasa for a fence for several years, the residents paid to have one built in 2014.
But it was stolen bit by bit until there was nothing left.
Prasa had budgeted R400 000 for a fence in the area for the 2016/2017 financial year, but the project was shelved (“Funds fail rail fence,” Northern News, September 8 2016) much to the annoyance of the community.
“I have been living here for 40 years, fighting with Metrorail to put up a fence here, but they always give us excuses. They say there’s no money and like giving us the run around,” said long-time resident, Alex Fleton.
Neighbourhood watch member Pierre van Wyk says the neighbourhood is besieged by criminals.
“We get robbed almost every time; the elderly cannot walk alone anymore; even children are attacked here. We need a fence built here.”
According to residents, robberies have increased in the past two years – they say this is because their suburb is vulnerable to opportunistic criminals taking short-cuts through the area – and two people have been killed crossing train tracks.
Metrorail spokeswoman Zino Mihi acknowledges the delays with fencing the area.
She says they are forging ahead with a new plan to build a fence, but adds Metrorail can’t be blamed for crime in Labiance.
Prasa, she says, is also in the middle of a massive modernisation drive that has taken priority over other projects.
“I have been informed that our technical department has been in regular talks with the Labiance community regarding the fencing.
“The community was informed that that the supply-chain management process for the fencing tender was under way, and a contractor has been identified to perform the necessary work,” said Ms Mihi.
“In the meantime, Metrorail is waiting for the contract to be signed. Once the process is finalised and contract is in place, we will commence with the work.”
But community leader Colin Mullins says they’ve heard this all before. “We have been trying to get Metrorail to build a fence for the past four years, but they have not been paying attention to our pleas. It’s all good and well to appoint someone, but that won’t help if we don’t know when the project will start.”
Bellville police spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Fienie Nimb says criminals use the unfenced railway as an escape route, as it’s difficult to chase after perpetrators once they cross on the tracks, but police haven’t seen an increase in crime in Labiance.
“We have had break-ins; schools were targeted and people’s vehicles. Crime is not out of control in Labiance, but we always appreciate initiatives by the community to keep their areas safe.”
Mr Collins says residents will continue to live in fear until Prasa builds the fence.