Union buildings showing signs of wear, neglect and vandalism

As access to the iconic Union Buildings continues to be restricted, the cracks are starting to show slowly but surely.

This year, an attempted breaking at the buildings saw the garden closed during peak times such as weekends and public holidays. While the Union Buildings are receiving fewer visitors due to the limited time to access the property, it is easier to spot the cracks in the infrastructure and garden.

Some stones on the stairs and the sidewalks are missing or damaged. Brass notice signs and letters on memorial walls are missing. Cement slabs on memorial graves are starting to come to lose.

The garden remained neat and well kept, but with pieces of paper scattered here and there in the grass as if someone had been too lazy to pick them up and, instead, run over them with a lawnmower.

Damaged signs at the Union Buildings, 7 June 2022, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

At the bottom of the Nelson Mandela statue, the pond is dry and bird droppings decorate the head of the struggle hero’s statue overlooking Pretoria.

The park at the bottom is generally neat with odd patches of litter. Small plastic drug bags, bottle caps, empty bottles and food parcels were seen across the park. Fences around the property are missing in parts or are damaged.

The informal vendors at the Union Buildings said they did not want to criticise the state of the property because they earned money exhibiting in front of the buildings. “We are grateful here, as the toilets look like those at the airport,” a vendor said.

Vendors said nothing about a blocked drain in the street behind them.

Damaged signs at the Union Buildings, 7 June 2022, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

At the bottom, the photographers who wait for visitors to photograph with the Nelson Mandela statue said the pond has been empty for a few months.

They added that the pond was emptied because Khoisan people living in the gardens bathed in it. Peter Blersch regularly exercises in the Union Building gardens and said he has been reporting issues in the gardens since 2017.

“I have been advising the department of public works of water leaks and other maintenance issues. Apart from a water leak repair and a significant improvement in the maintenance of the gardens, none of the other more serious issues raised has been dealt with,” he said.

Heritage South Africa chair Kathy Munro said she was concerned about the decay of an important public building.

“It is the state’s responsibility to ensure such a fine heritage asset and resource is maintained and accessible to the public,” Munro said. She said the public should be attracted to the gardens and the view of the fine building.

“The building is over 100 years old. It was completed in 1912 and desperately needs attention,” she said.

Department of public works and infrastructure spokesperson Thami Mchunu said the construction at the side of the Union Buildings was a maintenance project which should be completed by the end of May 2024. Mchunu added that the empty pond was undergoing maintenance work and would run again by next week.

“The signs will be repaired when funds are available. Vandalism at Union Buildings has increased and we have requested police to assist,“ he said.

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