Durban turns up heat on vagrants

2014-07-09 00:00

DURBAN Metro has turned up the heat against vagrancy and whoonga addiction, enforcing city bylaws and uprooting homeless residents and transporting them back home.

And a senior provincial politician has thrown her support behind the city, calling for the city’s drug addicts and ­“vagrants” to be “driven into the sea”.

A specially created Durban Metro unit has over the last two days executed a clean-up strategy to rid the city of ­vagrants living in King Dinizulu Park — also known as Whoonga Park where many are believed to be hooked on the heroin-based drug whoonga — who have for months held Glenwood, Berea and ­Umbilo residents ransom.

According to the city, in the last 72 hours over 400 people have been removed from the park and returned to their “homes” in greater Durban while shacks have been demolished in Sydney Road and Congella Park.

Social Development MEC Weziwe Thusi, speaking outside the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court yesterday after the three men arrested during a Kloof drug seizure made their second appearance — called for the removal of drug users and peddlers from society.

“We want to deal with Whoonga Park, we want to occupy that land and drive those people out. All the departments will join us in this campaign. We must drive these people into the sea. We do not want them here any more.”

But civic groups, while welcoming the action by the city, have voiced concern that widespread displacement of the estimated 3 000-strong central CBD homeless population could invoke a negative reaction by ratepayers who are “scared” of the alleged whoonga addicts.

Martin Xaba, who heads the Safer Cities initiative which is responsible for social programmes, said the city has a “two-pronged approach” to deal with the issue. “We are using both social intervention programmes and enforcement. Those who want to be rehabilitated we will assist. When we intensify the programme naturally there will be displacement but eventually we will move the people home or provide other forms of assistance.”

The city confirmed the clean-up will now be moving into Umbilo and the Warwick Triangle area and police sources said this is a long-term operation that has political backing.

Heather Rorick, who heads the Bulwer Community Safety Forum, urged for a greater collective approach to deal with drug addiction.

“We are in a drug epidemic. If this is not dealt with homelessness and whoonga addiction will increase.”

She said displacement of the park dwellers would further heighten fears within the community who have identified them as reasons for a spike in crime.

“The community is scared. The longer the clean-up takes the more scared the public become.”

eThekwini head of communications, Tozi Mthethwa, said once an area has been cleared and a multidisciplinary task team set up to address the problem has exhausted all support mechanisms, the municipality will not tolerate those who continue with illicit activities

“We will not hesitate to take action,” said Mthethwa.

A Metro Police source not authorised to speak to the media said vagrants not reunited with their families have been dropped off near a police station in the area where they are from.

“It is a sensitive issue and onlookers accuse us of acting harshly, but the reality is we are simply enforcing the bylaws,” said the officer.

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