Saldanha Bay, a community plagued by social ills

Minister General Bheki Cele and SAPS management were in Saldanha Bay earlier this month to engage the community following the disappearance of Joshlin Smith. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Minister General Bheki Cele and SAPS management were in Saldanha Bay earlier this month to engage the community following the disappearance of Joshlin Smith. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 15, 2024


Once beacon of hope with a solid steel trade industry, the seaside town of Saldanha Bay has recently garnered attention for all the wrong reasons following the disappearance of Joshlin Smith, along with the social ills that now plague the community.

Six-year-old Joshlin is alleged to have been trafficked for R20,000, and her mother Racquel “Kelly” Smith and her boyfriend, Jacquen Appolis, and Steveno van Rhyn face charges of trafficking and kidnapping.

Speaking to the “Cape Times” this week, ward councillor Siyabulelo Liwani said unemployment has pushed a number of residents into a cycle of substance abuse and criminal activity while faced with issues of lack of service delivery.

Liwani said the closure of Saldanha Steel in 2020 had a domino effect on the Diazville and Middelpos communities as many were employed at the steel plant for years.

ArcelorMittal South Africa closed its Saldanha plant, which resulted in hundreds of people losing their jobs, due to issues including high electricity costs.

“The issue of unemployment is a matter that is countrywide but in Middelpos, it is dire. When the global pandemic hit and the big steel company closed down among other big companies, it had a huge ripple effect on residents here who worked there and were suddenly without jobs. People have struggled to get back on their feet again after that as the opportunities dried up and since then, people have been left jobless,” said Liwani.

According to Liwani, some have turned to substance abuse to escape their harsh daily realities.

“Our people are despondent and some have now aligned themselves with the social ills that plague the community which include crime, drug and alcohol abuse out of desperation. And we cannot justify it because of that.

These are people who have become victims of their circumstances but more must be done to address these very issues to have any fighting chance at saving the community,” said Liwani.

Service delivery was slow. “We have a project currently which will deal with the electrifying of the community and also simultaneously water and sanitation is another service that the community desperately needs.

We want our residents to live with dignity in this area again and while these issues are outstanding and incomplete, it is a cause for concern.”

Diazville resident and community activist Nicolette Holland said services remained out of reach for the community to truly address social ills.

“Services for the area can only be reached when you go into Saldanha town. No other services are made available closer to the community and residents are told to go (to) town.

Arcelor Mittal South Africa closed its steel plant in Saldanha Bay in 2020 with hundreds of people losing their jobs, both at the plant and downstream businesses, in Saldanha and neighbouring towns. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane Independent Newspapers

This makes them despondent. Currently the area is so dark and it is not electrified and has been a breeding ground ideal for criminal activities,” said Holland.

Crime activist Gcinile Ngwenya said issues of youth substance abuse has resulted in more crime in the area.

“Drugs are readily available in the area and this of course lends itself to other criminal activity such as house break-ins.

“These youngsters have vandalised cables in the area as well (which) has resulted in there not being lights. The community (must) take ownership of their areas again and structures such as the neighbourhood watches should be revived again. It is a starting point,” said Ngwenya.

Mayor André Truter’s office referred questions to the municipality, which said it would respond in due course.

Residents searching for Joshlin Smith. Picture: Patrick Louw

According to data released by the municipality in 2022, it was estimated that the effect of Covid-19 continued to result in job losses in 2021, with a total of 1 570 jobs lost. The sector with the most job losses was the agriculture sector, with 924 jobs lost.

The municipality said skills development was a priority focus area to ensure that potential workers have the necessary skills to be employed in the current job market.

The only sectors estimated to have created jobs in 2021 were the general government and community services sectors.

Cape Times