Siyamtanda Capa
4 minute read
23 Sep 2021

Pietermaritzburg heritage route stalled by inner city decay

Siyamtanda Capa

A group of Pietermaritzburg residents who are passionate about heritage want to restore the city centre to its former glory.

A group of Pietermaritzburg residents who are passionate about heritage want to restore the city centre to its former glory.

Among their plans is to create a Pietermaritzburg heritage route and resuscitate the local tourism industry.

Their vision is, however, being stalled by the state of deterioration of the province’s capital. This includes the decay, crime and the dilapidated historical buildings.

Some of the buildings and historical sites lay at the mercy of vagrants and prostitutes who have taken over.

The group — led by the Msunduzi Association of Residents, Ratepayer and Civics (MARRC) Msunduzi — has blamed the Msunduzi Municipality for the unappealing condition of the CBD. They said the municipality has failed to ensure the city’s heritage is preserved and the surrounding council infrastructure is maintained.

MARRC embarked on a fact-finding tour around the city on Wednesday, starting at Project Gateway and moving on to Pine Street, before proceeding to the Unisa Pietermaritzburg Campus.

MARRC also recently conducted a similar assessment tour along Church Street.

The association said the aim of the tours was to assess and highlight the extent of the neglect and deterioration due to the lack of maintenance.

Ongoing stripping of heritage sites 

They also expressed their concerns about ongoing stripping of heritage sites and theft of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall roof copper sheeting.

At the time of the incident, the City admitted that security at City Hall was lax.

MARRC representative Lara Edmonds said the destruction at the City Hall had prompted them to look into other historical sites in Msunduzi.

She said what they have found during a walk along Church Street was “devastating”.

“The city was cleaned after the looting by citizens, but if you walk down Timber Lane you can’t ignore the stench and the rubbish,” said Edmonds.

She said she was aware that business had taken over, but the area needed to be managed effectively. “There were prostitutes and some buildings there have been deserted.”

She said she was concerned that when the lockdown regulations are relaxed further the city would not have a decent tourism offering.

“At present, the only places you can send tourists is the Tatham Art Gallery and go to the City Hall, but you can’t send tourists to Church Street because it is not safe,” she said.

She said it had become apparent that Msunduzi and Amafa Heritage Akwa­Zulu Natali were both failing on their mandate. “We as residents need to embrace our city and not run away from this, we are at a tipping point,” said Edmonds.

She added that more people needed to get involved.

“We can’t rely on the government, the community has to own its space,” she said.

Edmonds’ sentiments were shared by Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa board member Dr Bill Houston, who said maintaining the historical buildings in Pine Street had taken years but the rest of the city was crumbling.

“There is so much litter lying around which is never picked up, there are buildings that need to be painted, and to paint a building does not cost that much,” said Houston.

He said the damage to the buildings would lead to major costs later on.

Houston said the run-down buildings and heritage sites in Pietermaritzburg had an “unconscious psychological effect” on residents.

“Maritzburg used to call itself the City of Choice, but people keep choosing to leave, why is the municipality not doing the basics such as picking up litter?” asked Houston.

He said residents must consider picking up litter themselves and playing their part.

Medical doctor-turned-history-and-heritage enthusiast Dr. Liz Thomson warned that if Pietermaritzburg’s heritage was not preserved, it could be lost.

“Without support from people it will go down the drain. Lilliesleaf has gone down the drain and even [Nelson] Mandela’s house in Soweto has also gone down the drain,” she said.

She was referring to the popular heritage site which honours the South African liberation movement. The museum is on the brink of closure.

“We need to try and make sites like heroes acre and the City centre financially viable so that they are attractive,” said Thomson

Thomson said most of the buildings that were problematic were owned by government departments, which have been allowed to disintegrate to “wreck and ruin”.

Amafa said it would respond to The Witness’ query today.

Msunduzi Mayor Mzimkhulu Thebolla said he first wanted to investigate the issues raised by MARRC before giving his response.