City parking in whoonga grip

2016-02-08 10:37
Illegal car guards in Pietermaritzburg Thomas Street and Commercial Street.

Illegal car guards in Pietermaritzburg Thomas Street and Commercial Street. (Thabang Mathebula)

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Pietermaritzburg - Whoonga addicts have reportedly “hijacked” the parking system in parts of the CBD, but neither the police nor the municipality are prepared to take responsibility. The affected areas include Thomas Street, Commercial Road and even Church street.

Business owners in Thomas Street told The Witness they were unhappy about the poor monitoring of the city’s parking bay system, which has been “hijacked by scavengers”, and alleged this was also contributing to high levels of crime.

But while the business owners claim their businesses are being negatively affected by illegal “car guards” who are harassing people in the area, Msunduzi municipality and police were not willing to help.

When asked if the municipality had an action plan to reclaim the “hijacked” city parking, municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madondo replied in a written statement that the matter “should be reported to the SAPS”.

But uMgungundlovu south cluster police spokesperson, Mthokosizi Ngobese, in turn said the matter should be directed to the municipality.

“Police are not responsible for matters related to street problems. The business owners pay rates to the municipality, therefore they should deal with this. We only respond to crime,” he said.

The Witness received reports about store employees, especially women, as well as business owners and motorists being threatened and harassed by criminal elements in the area.

Happiness Hlongwane, the area supervisor for the legal parking attendants in the area, said the problem is “uncontrollable”.

“It’s a big problem. Sometimes motorists get confused about who they should pay because these guys run towards the vehicle when they see a driver approaching the car, and then help the motorist to reverse. Sometimes drivers end up paying double for parking or sometimes our parking attendants are not paid at all.”

She said although police did sometimes arrest the illegal people posing as car guards they always released them the next day.

“We have had cases where they robbed our attendant of the money she had accumulated for that day. They [the attendants] are not safe in the streets,” said Hlongwane.

Meanwhile, some business owners are planning to leave the area.

A fruit and vegetable shop owner, Sanjev Narin, said he and other business owners have informed police on numerous occasions about the problem, but their response is that “it is a public road and they can’t arrest people for roaming around there”.

Narin said when the addicts can’t make money from parking cars they camp in front of the shops pestering customers for money and they harass staff.

“We lodged a lot of complaint to the police and the traffic department about this matter and nothing was done about.

“These boys are pestering us and our customers. The police told us that there is no law against begging.

“They also took over the parking areas allowing motorists to park in the loading zones. This is bad for our business,” said Narin.

Some business owners who did not want to be named said crime has increased significantly as a result of whoonga addicts making the area their home.

In the past weeks two businesses — a wedding sales shop and a travel agency — were robbed in broad daylight, allegedly by some whoonga smokers.

When The Witness visited the area the team saw a man wearing what looked like car guard “gear” help a motorist to drive out of his bay while the legal parking attendant was busy elsewhere.

As the motorist started to drive away he was stopped by the legitimate attendant wanting to be paid. Even though the motorist motorist explained that he had already paid for his parking, he ended up paying again.

• thabang.mathebula@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  parking

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