No more picnicing and watching the sunset over the Pretoria city skyline after security breaches at Union Buildings saw the garden closed over weekends until further notice.
A photographer working in the gardens said officials started locking the gates of the garden over weekends at the end of February.
“We heard there was a trespasser in the early morning hours who threatened to burn down the buildings. They suspected he had a bomb and searched his car,” he said.
The photographer, who did not wish to be identified, has been taking photos in the garden since 2014 and he said weekends and public holidays were the days when he made the most money.
“One of the tour guides had foreigners from Germany who couldn’t visit the garden to take a photo at the Nelson Mandela statue because it was closed. It’s going to affect our tourism,” he said.
For the past seven years, Jomo Baloyi has been selling ice cream at the Union Buildings seven days a week.
He said he was overwhelmed with questions by the public about the sudden closure of the garden over weekends.
Baloyi said because people knew him from the garden, they complained to him about its closure.
“My income has dropped to 20%,” he said.
A homeless man, speaking anonymously because he is ashamed of being unemployed due to a mental illness, said the closures over the weekend were sad.
“I get the most help over weekends because people come here to picnic. Now I get less than half of what I used to,” he said.
He said was struggling to survive on the disability grant he received.
“I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I beg for food because I have no other means of making money,” the homeless man said, before digging in a nearby dustbin.
Bezil Tafirenyika, a photographer, said he was unhappy about the closure.
“We make R500 on a normal day and more when it’s busy over the weekend. Now, nothing,” he said.
Tafirenyika said they weren’t given a valid reason for the closure of the garden.
Department of public works and infrastructure spokesperson Thami Mchunu said the public area in the Union Buildings around Nelson Mandela’s statue has been closed off to the general public for security concerns.
“This measure emanates from an incident in which three unauthorised men tried to force their entry into the premises with their vehicle, therefore, resisting lawful instructions and posed a security threat to everyone including executive, officials and members of the public,” he said.
Mchunu said following extensive engagement with the presidency, security, police, and the department of public works and infrastructure, it was resolved that closure was the best measure considering that the premises were a national key point.
“It was also resolved that the Union Buildings gates will be closed at 6pm on weekdays and closed completely on weekends and public holidays,” he said.
Mchunu said security contractors have been informed of this measure and would continue their daily security duties in collaboration with the police without any hindrance.