[Originally published on 29 August 2013] On 5 August 2013 we published a letter from Andrew Reed of the Mandela Bay Heritage Trust (MBHT) highlighting neglect and illegal work in Port Elizabeth's oldest suburb. He has not received an answer from the authorities and has therefore written the follow up letter published below.
In addition to the urgent request earlier this month to SAHRA/ECPHRA and the local authority (Land and housing and building inspectorate and the Metro council at large), of which there has been a conspicuous silence, there has now followed the complete removal of the boundary wall to the rear of Donkin Row Houses (Constitution Hill Street) as well as the rest of the back of the houses.
There is a common misconception that these 'additions' are 'outhouses' despite the fact that they appear on the Smyth Survey from 1903-6. The property owner continues to get away with breaking the law without following procedure and this has caused irrevocable damage already. The Donkin Houses have lost their uniqueness and are now merely simplified shadows of what they were.
This matter is growing out of all proportion and lack of local action and the subsequent blame for the destruction of the City's heritage will fall squarely on those who have had the power to act. Approximately 8 other properties (excluding the Donkin Row) have had illegal work done, and some even demolished outright.
As the scale of this situation grows, the National Public Prosecutor will have increasingly more ammunition with which to challenge this flagrant disregard for the National Heritage Resources Act. We will not forget the courses of action that Advocate Goosen proposed to the Metro some years back.
A great irony is that while 'un-pc' 'colonial' heritage is being destroyed, so to are the layers of Port Elizabeth's pre-colonial and pre-Khoisan past. The property owner in question has unearthed, and destroyed many underground tanks which tell the story of the growth of the city and most notably of the stream that flows under Donkin Street to this day.
In the 1950's numerous shell middens and precolonial artefacts where discovered on the site of the Donkin Reserve, an area which has been a settlement for thousands of years. Port Elizabeth has many stories to tell and a site as valuable and rich in history as is the Donkin Reserve area, deserves a thorough Heritage Impact Assessment comprising an Archaealogical Impact Assessment, so great is the scope here. In fact this recommendation was made to SAHRA and ECPHRA in 2011.
It would be in the interest of all the local arms of government and heritage authorities to start working together and do their job in terms of respecting the laws of our land before the State does so instead.