Families who paid for memorial benches on the Fish Hoek beachfront to honour loved ones were shocked to learn the City of Cape Town removed them without letting them know.
Earlier this year, the City removed 21 memorial benches from the beachfront during the resurfacing of the walkway between the lighthouse and the Galley Restaurant.
One of the benches belonged to Pierre du Plessis.
Pierre died suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 39 in 2010. He was an integral part of the Cape Town big-wave scene and a member of the pioneering Kommentjie tow-crew.
His sister, Tracy Busse (* ée du Plessis) a former Fish Hoek resident who now lives in Melbourne, Australia, said their mother, Jeannie Pratt, had paid for a bench on the beachfront.
She said the bench had been a wonderful source of comfort to their family.
“It was a place where we could go to and speak with him and a place where his children could sit and think of him. It was ‘his place’, and for me, it was a reminder of our childhood years on our beautiful beach,” she said.
Their mother has since died, and it was during a trip back to Cape Town that their stepfather, Allen Pratt, who also lives in Melbourne, went down to Fish Hoek beach to sit on the bench only to find it was gone.
Ms Busse said her stepfather had gone to sit on her brothers’ bench as he knew his wife would have wanted him to do so.
He immediately started asking around, calling the local council for answers but to no avail. Eventually he made contact with Phillip Katz, the grounds-keeper, who referred him to a project manager, Andrew Stevens, who on his own initiative had removed as many plaques as he could from the benches before they had been destroyed.
Mr Pratt collected the box of plaques from him, but Pierre’s were not among them. He handed the remaining plaques to Mr Katz who said he would try to contact the families through Facebook and display them on a bench at the entrance to the beachfront for family members to collect.
Ms Busse said it appeared no record had been kept of which benches had been demolished and which plaques had been removed, so there were other families who had been treated with a lack of empathy and respect.
And, she added, there seemed to be no plan to re-erect the plaques on the benches.
“Benches paid for by the public should be treated as an asset by the council and it is here to serve its community and, in this case, it has failed dismally. We deserve more,” she said.
She said she was grateful to Mr Pratt for all the research he had done even though he was supposed to have been on holiday. And she also thanked Mr Katz and Mr Stevens who collected the plaques.
Mr Stevens said he hoped the families would be reunited with the plaques again soon.
City spokesman Luthando Tyhalibongo said it was an oversight to not have consulted with families who had donated memorial benches in the past and the City apologised to all those who had been affected.
He said the benches had been removed as they had not been in a state to be reused.
“It is the City’s intention to improve on this in future by creating a database of contact information for donors with details of the bench location, which can then be regularly updated.
“A seating layout plan has now been developed for the Fish Hoek beachfront, and funding has been allocated for new benches to be installed systematically from the lighthouse towards to Galley Restaurant during the next six months,” he said.
The Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association ( FVRRA) also expressed its concern about the removal of the benches in a document addressed to Sub-council 19.
It stated that the replacement of the benches seemed not to be a priority for the City. According to the document, quotes obtained by the City for replacement benches came to about R12 000 per bench.
The FHVRRA said the cost was too exorbitant and after some research into benches suitable for coastal environments it presented the council with two more viable options, a wooden bench on concrete legs for about R4 500 or a recycled plastic bench for about R3 500.
The document stated that the plastic bench was the preferred choice by the FHVRRA due to not requiring varnish twice a year. However, the plastic bench would need UV protection and flame retardant.