Pietermaritzburg’s iconic Harwin’s Arcade in Theatre Lane in the CBD, was closed during a city blitz on Thursday, due to its deplorable state and illegal electricity connections.
Msunduzi Municipality went on a blitz disconnecting illegal water and electricity connections and demolishing run-down buildings around the city on Thursday.
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Deputy mayor Mxolisi Mkhize, council speaker councilor Eunice Majola and members of different portfolios from the city led the unannounced blitz exercise.
The operation focuses on problem buildings, illegal structures and the enforcement of city bylaws.
All the small businesses that operated from the once iconic building situated between Timber and Theatre lanes, were left stranded when the team ordered them out and locked the building down.
A hair salon owner from Caluza, Mpume Mkhize, said they were punished for the landlord’s wrongdoing.
Mkhize said she has been renting at the building for last three months.
We are collateral damage here because the person the municipality should be chasing is the owner, the one who takes rent from us. We have no business paying for water or electricity. It’s the owner’s responsibility. Our businesses are now closed down and we don’t hear the city officials asking about the owner.
She said she employed three people in her hair salon.
“All of us who operate in the building could not take our assets out. We left empty-handed and the only word from the city officials was that we would get our belongings once we paid for the outstanding water and electricity bill. What they have locked inside there is all we have and the stance they have taken against us is unfair,” she said.
The team of Msunduzi officials went to various parts of the city, disconnecting and even demolishing some of the problem buildings, while more were shut down.
In a short statement sent by the municipality on Thursday afternoon, deputy mayor Mkhize said:
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“The operation has seen the removal of illegal electricity and water connections, shutting down of buildings and businesses that are flouting regulations and by-laws, the demolition of dilapidated buildings and illegal structures.
The multi-disciplinary operation is intended to encourage business owners to abide by the law. The municipality will continue cracking the whip on non-compliance and blatant disregard of the city bylaws in order to ensure that the law order is restored in the city.
Council speaker Majola said they kept the operation secret to avoid a situation where, when they get to the targeted areas, they find them clean or locked, with the occupants having fled.
She said one main building was demolished while other outside buildings, which were built illegally, were also demolished.
“The building in Timber and Theater lane is disastrous; hence we decided to close it down completely. Inside the same building, we found other smaller buildings which were illegally erected. It’s a disaster waiting to happen because if it’s not falling on people, it could burn down because of the illegal electricity connections. [The building had been] disconnected but they reconnected electricity from an outside street lamp.
The water for the entire building is connected to a toilet. I don’t know where people get such dangerous [ideas] because, with a spark of a wire, the building could catch fire.
George Lingo, who said he was in charge of the building, said their lawyer was handling the matter. He admitted that they were disconnected, but added that some tenants were connecting from the neighboring buildings.
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“We have a debt of about R1 million and we are raising a deposit to get connected again. The municipal officials said the place is old and dilapidated, but that is not true because when I first moved here I started cleaning this place and it looked better than the mess it was.
“Tomorrow we will reopen, we are confident about that,” said Lingo.