Up in smoke

2014-06-13 00:00

THE attack on vagrants and whoonga addicts at Durban’s King Dinizulu (Botha) Park on Monday evening by a vigilante gang is a sign of the desperation for a solution to the opportunistic crime problem in the area.

Reports indicate that the area was like a war zone. Helpless drug addicts sought refuge in establishments in the nearby areas, including Glenwood. The perpetrators are said to be Dalton hostel residents who are fed up with opportunistic crime in their area, although so far no evidence has been brought forward to support the allegation that vagrants and the homeless are responsible for the crimes. Traditional weapons, including knobkerries and bush knives, are believed to have been used in the attack.

It’s easy for people to blame the homeless whoonga addicts, although no substantial evidence to this effect has been brought to the authorities. The conflict in the area is a direct result of failed service delivery.

Looking at the number of incidents involving community members and the park dwellers, it is obvious that the dwellers are capable of fighting back in defence of their own when attacked.

Without the involvement of the city and police, these confrontations could become a regular occurrence.

Recently, four men who claimed to be from the same hostel traced an alleged house-breaking suspect to the park. One of the men had a firearm, and when he and his companions started dragging and beating the suspect up, fellow park dwellers would have none of it. They charged the men, defending their own, with the one carrying a firearm firing several shots, injuring two or three of the defenders. The four men, armed as they were, ran away.

In another incident, reports are that a police vehicle chased a young boy into the park and again, park dwellers came to the defence of their own. Scary isn’t it — homeless people and drug addicts with no fear of the authorities?

One Sunday in September 2013, a clash between groups of people in the Albert Park area left one person dead, and four Metro police officers and a commuter injured in what was believed to be drug-related violence.

At the time, the municipality said it had identified Albert Park as a hot spot for whoonga. The municipality said it had enlisted assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and the police, and together with the department they were working towards finding accommodation for the homeless and taking the addicts to rehabilitation centres.

After all these incidents and others which have not been reported, what has happened to the plans to deal with the problem?

What followed instead was the removal of this group from Albert to Botha Park, to “profile” them.

One questions the logic of removing these people from one park to the next while there are more than 100 buildings in the CBD that have been illegally converted into flats. Municipal by-laws are disregarded and the buildings are run down. There are also disused buildings and there’s also vacant land where a centre or centres can be built to accommodate these people.

Chasing them from one park and dumping them in another is far from being a solution.

If the municipality can spend R15 million on festivities to celebrate 20 years of democracy, would it be that costly to find a building or two, or a plot of land on which to build a centre where these people can be accommodated?

The Dalton hostel committee said they had since 2010 urged the SAPS, Metro police and eThekwini Municipality to address the scourge of the whoonga addicts and large number of homeless people and criminals who have for years lived at nearby Albert Park.

Metro bosses should start treating the issues of vagrants and addicts with the urgency they deserve.

In our democratic society, is it necessary to channel funds to celebrations while there are lives to be saved? Or is this another struggle where more people will have to pay with their lives for their emancipation from social ills.

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