A Kenwyn family whose outside wall’s pro-Palestinian mural was painted over by Metro Police following a complaint by a neighbour says the experience was unorthodox in nature. Raighanna Waja-Ahmed, whose parents’ home until recently sported a mural of a Palestinian flag and ‘#FreeGaza’ in text beside it, says the officer who explained the removal gave an unsavoury account of the bylaw governing signage in suburban areas.
Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security JP Smith last week told VOC any signage visible to the naked eye from the street needs to be approved by the City of Cape Town. He said the application for the permit is normally processed in a short amount of time.
But Waja-Ahmed says she and her family received no proper explanation from the Metro police officer who alerted them of the need to paint over the signage outside their home.
“[He said] they received a complaint from our neighbour that our mural was offensive. My mother asked him to show her the bylaw on paper so that she could understand it; she told him she would have it removed. But he then said that he was with people from the council who would be removing it immediately.”
She says when she and her family eventually moved outside, part of the wall had already been painted over. Waja-Ahmed explains when she threatened to document the occurrence by photographing it, the police officer requested that they do not photograph him; instead, he ordered that the painter with him halt.
“He said ‘don’t take any pictures, we’ll leave the flag,’ he then said he would tell his superiors that the flag is not offensive. He didn’t want to do anything further when we took our cameras out, which was very suspicious to us.”
She explains that immediately after the peculiar interaction, the officer left, having not settled the business he said he was there to settle.
But through the City’s Integrated Strategic Communication and Branding Department, VOC News has been privy to the bylaw in question. The Graffiti Bylaw of 2010 solidifies an earlier statement by Mayoral Committee member JP Smith that any signage within the city’s boundaries must be approved before being erected, regardless of its location.
“No person shall within the area of jurisdiction of the City, without a permit issued by the City, apply graffiti or cause graffiti to be applied to property; natural surface; or wall, fence, structure … in any street or other public place,” the bylaw reads.
It continues to state that anyone who wishes to paint any form of signage where it is visible from the street, as was the case with the Waja family, a permit is necessary.
“Any person who intends applying a mural or any one of or a combination of any inscription, … drawing or design to any natural surface or man-made surface on any property, which will be visible to a person from a public place, must apply in writing to the [City] for a permit to do so.”
According to the bylaw any form of visible art, regardless of whether it was done, or approved by, a property’s owner, is considered graffiti and the person responsible is subject to a fine or will be served with an order to remove the ‘graffiti’.
If the signage is not removed in the stipulated time frame, then only will a fine be issued. VOC