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Newcastle KwaZulu-Natal’s Paradise Sports Grounds has, for many years, allowed teams from the respective sports codes to practice, play matches and develop their skills freely. However, groups now require a Newcastle Municipality’s Protection Services permit to gain entrance due to recent changes.
A tedious process requiring a representative from a sports team to contact the individual in charge of facilitating the permits at the municipality. According to a source, the representative must then send the municipal official an email stating the respective club’s background and the days they train.
The said individual will then apparently respond with the relevant terms and conditions before allowing them to play at the public sports grounds.
Mervyn Maharaj of Newcastle Legends Football Club adds that the Newcastle Legends have been unable to play for over a week, despite talks with the Newcastle Municipality. “The municipality has explained the grounds are being used by schoolchildren to bunk school, and others using drugs,” he said.
While commending the municipality in taking the initiative to curb drug usage and bunking at the grounds, Maharaj stresses, “Improving security is good, but there are no school children bunking school after hours.”
In addition, if security is an issue, Maharaj asks why are the same steps not being implemented at Arbor Park Sports Grounds and Fernwood Sports Grounds?
“Our team consists of players over 50 years of age. This means that 90% of the team are working class and we need the lights, which are available at Paradise Sports Grounds, to practice.”
It is important to note that Newcastle Legends Football Club participates in many leagues, which sees them playing in Durban, and out-of-town teams often make their way to Newcastle to play.
“Our rates and taxes are used for the upkeep of the grounds, and many of us have been playing there since we were children,”.Mervyn Maharaj
Moreover, he asks what will now happen to the youth, which Newcastle’s football clubs have taken under their wings to train? Will these children now be unable to play because they do not have the relevant permits?
Imran Keeka of the Democratic Alliance (DA) explains he has been approached by community members, all of them seeking clarification around the Newcastle Municipality’s decision.
“The importance of the facility being open for public use cannot be overemphasised. For decades, people have used the grounds, unincumbered, to keep fit, play competitive matches, and train. This must not be stopped by any draconian process and must not be hindered by unnecessary red-tape.”Imran Keeka
Keeka further states, “If the municipality seeks to put measures in place for the upkeep of the facility and prevent vandalism, then, while welcoming this, it must be in consultation with the wider community that lawfully uses the premises. And, as it has always been, this must be at no cost to those who have enjoyed the grounds for a very long time. However, we await their response to understand the most recent stunt.”
Keeka explains that he has communicated with the Acting Municipal Manager [MM] Vish Govender. Yet, on Monday morning, 20 September 2021, Govender requested that Keeka provide him with a list of people who had interacted with him.
“I will not make this list available until his office will interact with me regarding the reasons for their activity. Everyone who has always used the fields is within their right to know why, to have been consulted first, and then to have been informed beforehand of changes so as not to hamper their routines, leisure, and health needs. This could have been achieved through a notice period,” states Keeka.
The DA representative further elaborates that residents need to be reassured that whatever process is being followed, everyone will once again have use of the grounds. “It cannot be that this is permanently stopped or too much paper shuffling will come in the way.”
Keeka believes these are the questions that still need to be answered, and he now awaits a formal response from the Acting MM. “This is the right thing for him to do. I am hopeful that his reply will be swift. The community cannot be kept on a string, waiting, while their need to use the facility is being frustrated.”
With some residents having contacted Keeka, he claims, “This will allow me to raise the matter further should the response or actions of the municipality have a negative effect on the community’s needs. In this regard, I intend compiling a petition to gather those details and residents’ affirmation of what their urgent needs are.
What further steps can or should be sought is dependent on what the municipality’s response is. I am hopeful that whatever it is, it favours the people of the town first. That is their priority.”
As the DA intends to look into the matter, ActionSA’s Faizel Cassim points out that he is all for the permits. The reasoning behind the decision, he explains, “A lot of people were abusing the grounds, through drug usage, alcohol consumption or ‘quickies’. When these people left the grounds, they would leave behind their alcohol bottles and used condoms.”
Through the permit system and a more robust security presence, Cassim points out that the local riff-raff is now kept off the facility, making it a much safer environment for the community.
“The community complained about the issues, which involved the drinking, drugs and school children using the grounds as a hangout. So, the reasoning for the decision is good.”Faizel Cassim
However, he adds that there have been allegations that a local club recently employed a security company to guard the grounds while they were practising. He emphasised that the allegations were concerning, as the guards were apparently armed with guns. “This should not be allowed, as the sports grounds are in a residential area and such behaviour intimidates both the elderly and children.”
Cassim states these allegations need to be investigated, and if found to be factual, the team responsible for the armed guards should be penalised.
Nikole Naidoo of Patriotic Alliance (PA) stresses that she does not support the permit initiative, as innocent community members must now pay for the mistakes of others.
“Once the Newcastle Municipality provides a community-based service, they are responsible to ensure security is in place to provide safety.”Nikole Naidoo
Naidoo points out that the elderly residents and sports enthusiasts who rely on the facility for fitness will not have free movement due to those responsible for drug and alcohol consumption.
Instead of implementing a permit system, Naidoo feels security at the Paradise Sports Grounds should be beefed up to keep the guilty parties out. This allows residents to enjoy the facilities they have been enjoying for decades.
The Newcastle Municipality was approached on 15 September 2021 for comment and notified that the article would be published on 20 September 2021. To date, no comment was forthcoming from the Newcastle Municipality.
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