Thieves strip, deface Donkin Reserve

BRAZEN thieves are defacing and ravaging one of Port Elizabeth's most iconic tourist spots – under the full glare of closed-circuit (CCTV) cameras.

The revamped Donkin Reserve in the historical heart of the city, a popular attraction for visitors at this time of year, has become a happy hunting ground for criminals and vandals.

Almost all of the light bulbs and their casings along the Donkin's walkways and at its skate park have been damaged or stolen, and pieces of Bay artist Duncan Stewart's eye-catching steel sculpture, River Memory, are also vanishing by the day.

A concerned Central resident warned this was the tip of the iceberg and that artists Anthony Harris and Conrad Geel's iconic Voting Line installation, which features a metal silhouette of a waving Nelson Mandela, could be next if the situation was not addressed urgently.

The absence of lighting is also a safety threat after nightfall.

Ward 5 councillor Morne Steyn said vandalism at the Donkin had been brought to his attention and he had reported it to the metro's safety and security directorate.

The DA councillor said security at the Donkin was not up to scratch and that enforcement was lacking.

"What concerns me more than anything is the fact that there are CCTV cameras, which are not being used efficiently," he said.

"The issues at the Donkin need to be addressed, and we have made recommendations to the safety and security directorate to use the cameras to prevent the problem."

Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) chief executive Pierre Voges said he was aware of the vandalism, which was one of the agency's biggest problems.

Public art and other initiatives in the area have been largely driven by the MBDA in an ongoing bid to bring urban regeneration to the once-neglected historical heart of Port Elizabeth.

"The MBDA is responsible for innovative upgrades to try and make the city competitive," Voges said.

"Our mandate does not include maintenance – that is the function of the metro. However, the agency is taking over more and more maintenance work." He said the MBDA was lobbying the metro for additional maintenance money to ensure upgrades did not become dysfunctional.

Meanwhile, Stewart said the situation was indicative of the sad state of affairs in the country and he was not surprised that his sculpture was being stripped.

"If the guys at the top can get away with doing wrong, everyone else will have a 'why can't we' attitude.

"This is tragic for public art but in the context of how things are in the country at the moment, I am not surprised," Stewart said.

Municipal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki said he was unable to comment at this point. - Xolisa Phillip

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