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Barely two months into the new financial year, the City of Cape Town’s Community Services and Health Directorate is already faced with fresh challenges around vandalism and theft at community facilities.

In one of the latest incidents at the Mayenzeke Clinic in Khayelitsha on Tuesday 6 August 2019, staff arrived at work to find that the facility had been burgled.

After breaking-in, the suspects proceeded to break down doors to 10 rooms in the clinic, cut padlocks on drawers and cupboards, broke the glass window in the reception area and pulled down the shelving, leaving patient folders in complete disarray.

Among the items stolen were computers, an ECG machine and nutritional products.

Services were significantly affected on the day, as staff had to wait for the police to finish their investigations before they could clean up and start treating patients. Many were deferred to neighbouring clinics or asked to return at a later date.

The impact will be felt for a long while, as staff are unable to make electronic appointments for clients, retrieve client folders, do data capturing and documents were lost. Insurance claims take time to finalise, so the clinic has to make do without the stolen items until further notice and of course, money that was earmarked for proactive maintenance now has to be spent fixing the vandalism these attackers wrought.

Additional security has been appointed as staff understandably feel unsettled and vulnerable.

Just a day after the incident in Khayelitsha, there was an attempted break-in at the Matrix Clinic in Parkwood. Nothing was taken, but the culprits left a hole in the ceiling of the staff room.

In Strand, nearly three months after a suspected arson attack caused extensive damage to the Ikhwezi Clinic, the community continues to bear the brunt of service disruption.

At the Khayelitsha Library, ongoing cable theft impacts on the facility’s opening hours, which in turn disrupts service delivery to users who cannot access reading materials or internet facilities, amongst others. This causes immense frustration for staff, who are unable to do their jobs, but also for the hundreds of learners, job seekers and entrepreneurs who rely on the services.

These are but a few examples – there are many others which add up and eat away at our repairs and maintenance budget, force us to spend millions every year on security hardening measures and compromise our ability to deliver quality services consistently.

In this financial year, two of our departments have set aside nearly R20 million for security hardening features – R15 million for the Recreation and Parks Department and R4,3 million for City Health.

This money could have been used to build a new clinic or park or acquire vehicles to take services closer to communities.

Aside from the financial considerations, vandalism and theft have a human cost that is difficult to quantify and which takes its toll, as the incidents highlighted have shown.

The people behind these, but also other attacks on City infrastructure need to realise that they are depriving their own communities of vital services.

It is also true that in many instances the criminals are known to communities and I urge residents to take responsibility for their facilities and to partner with the City to help protect assets which belong to all, and to report these incidents to the police or the City’s law enforcement agencies.

We can’t make progress and build safer and healthier communities if the status quo remains unchanged.

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