The Liesbeeck River is a very important waterway running through the Groote Schuur CID’s area of operations.  It is also a magnificent river trail used by many to walk and to run along its beautiful paths and walkways.

GSCID CEO, Anthony Davies and Operations Manager, Charl Brooks, were very glad to meet with Kyran Wright, Friends of the Liesbeek (FOL) River Maintenance Project Manager and its Chairman, Dr Kevin Winter recently.  The object of the meeting was to seek ways  of working closely together especially to deal with the serious problems caused by the homeless squatting along sections of the river.

 FOL Chairman, Kevin Winter; Kyran Wright, the Liesbeek River Maintenance Project Manager; Ingrid Frieslaar, the GSCID’s Social Outreach Manager; GSCID CEO, Anthony Davies and GSCID Operations Manager, Charl Brooks


FOL Chairman, Kevin Winter; Kyran Wright, the Liesbeek River Maintenance Project Manager; Ingrid Frieslaar, the GSCID’s Social Outreach Manager; GSCID CEO, Anthony Davies and GSCID Operations Manager, Charl Brooks

 

“Bearing in mind the importance of this historic river,” says Davies, “and the interest it holds in the minds of our community, we would like to share some of our thoughts and how we together approach the management of this wonderful waterway.”

FOL has a two pronged approach toward the river: an ongoing river maintenance programme (http://fol.org.za/liesbeek-maintenance-project/), which includes regular litter clean-ups, removal of alien vegetation and maintaining pathways, as well as a more focussed programme aimed at attending to problem sections along the river.

Being on the river with his team of eight full time staff for most of the week, Kyran Wright, , says he has a very good handle on what is happening on the river and its surrounds. “The biggest issue we encounter is the damage caused by the homeless people living along the river bank. They set up temporary shelters at various spots along the river and use the river itself and the river’s edges to do their ablutions.” According to Wright, the ecoli count levels are quite high particularly at the lower ends of the river near Rondebosch and Paarden Eiland which are worst affected. “This creates the potential for water based diseases and human pathogens,” he advises.

FOL try to open up the area to the public to make the river walkways more accessible and the pathways more appealing so that people will use it more often, thereby discouraging the homeless from settling there. “We have discovered that where high usage occurs on certain sections of the river, there tends to be less occupation by the homeless.”

Wright has noticed a high turnover of homeless people coming into the area and his concern is that there is a real danger of permanent settlements being established. During inspections along the river, he often encounters ‘nests’ of homeless structures and belongings, usually on top of vegetation and recent FOL plantings. “They obstruct our landscaping efforts and block pathways, making it difficult for FOL to carry out its work in the area. We are, however, mindful of the social dilemma and the need to treat the issue with sensitivity and compassion,” he says.

“Problems rarely occur in areas where the GSCID has a presence,” observes Wright, “as we find that it is usually outside of the GSCID boundaries where the problems are found. The GSCID do a very good job of managing the situation together with SAPS and the City’s Law Enforcement.  However, Davies pointed out that the GSCID staff are able to assist within the GSCID boundaries.

Wright retains close contact with GSCID Operations Manager, Charl Brooks, to report illegally erected structures on the river as soon as they are spotted. He is also liaising closely with Ingrid Frieslaar, the GSCID’s Social Outreach Manager, who has set up and maintained a database profiling the homeless within the GSCID precinct.

According to Wright there are numerous external organisations, such as the Two Rivers Urban Parkway (TRUP) and The Friends of the Rosebank and Mowbray Greenbelt (FROG), as well as the City’s Invasive Species and Parks divisions working with the same goals in mind, yet very little communication between the different entities. “There is a tendency to work in isolation,” he adds. “It has happened in the past,” says Wright, “that we have had to reschedule planned work and in some cases even cancel scheduled activities due to a lack of communication about other events and initiatives taking place along the river.”  He is therefore glad to have the close working relationship with Charl Brooks of the GSCID and his staff.

Wright adds that there is also a tendency to deal with homeless issues on an ad hoc basis particularly in summer and spring when this problem is more evident. “I want to create and facilitate partnerships with all the major role players,” he says, “and together develop a long term strategy to deal with (vagrancy) the homeless, particularly as it affects the Liesbeek River. In winter the homeless move off to seek better shelter and this provides us with an ideal window of opportunity to devise a formal plan to deal with (the) homelessness before a more serious problem develops.”

“It is crucial,” he adds, “that we tap into the many available resources and collaborate with other role players, such as the GSCID, to ensure a co-operative campaign that will benefit the community as a whole.”

Wright’s main objectives are to expose the problem more widely and to create a sense of urgency about the issue. He also hopes to promote better lines of communication between all role players and thus avoid duplication of efforts. This would result in a more co-ordinated approach to tackling the problems associated with the Liesbeek River. He is also intent on establishing a comprehensive network of contacts that he can leave behind for future river managers to use.

The Liesbeek River Life Plan, a recently formed collaborative effort between the Friends of the Liesbeek and UCT’s Urban Water Management research unit, and the brainchild of Kevin Winter (http://kevin-winter-uct.com/) of UCT’s Environmental and Geographical Science Department, who is also a member of the FOL committee, aims to restore and offer better support to the social and ecological life of the Liesbeek River. (http://fol.org.za/liesbeek-river-life-project/)

 

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