The increase in the number of vagrants and whoonga addicts camping outside shops in Pietermaritzburg’s CBD is pushing businesses out of the city centre.Some local businesses blamed the municipality for allowing the situation to spiral out of control under their watch.They also warned that this trend of businesses leaving the city centre will continue as long as the situation is ignored and this will have a negative impact on the municipality’s coffers, as the number of businesses contributing towards rates and services decreases.In the past three months, a KFC franchise, Upper Crust Bakery and Boxer Supermarket, which were previously situated in Langalibalele Street, have packed up and left.The most recent business to close is a Nando’s franchise. This means four major businesses have shut down within the same area. Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the municipality has had numerous engagements with affected stakeholders regarding these challenges. “The challenge is very dynamic and requires various stakeholders to participate in order find a sustainable solution. “The municipality will continue to facilitate discussions and find solutions around this challenge and we also appreciate the support that we receive from the business and NPO sector,” Mafumbatha said.Mafumbatha said the municipality has also been engaging the Office of the Premier concerning a proposal of a rehabilitation centre.“The mayor Themba Njilo and MEC for Social Development Weziwe Thusi had met earlier this month to discuss the department’s contribution and role on the matter.“The department indicated that it can assist with the under 18s,” she said. According to some members of the business community, the increase in the numbers of vagrants has also given rise to criminal activities and has discouraged customers from patronising these stores. This has left some businesses struggling to generate sufficient profits. They’ve also raised issues relating to a lack of safety and cleanliness as other contributing factors that influenced their decisions to take their businesses elsewhere. Other businesses in the vicinity said they too are on the verge of packing up and leaving.“We had three attempted break-ins in the previous months. However, we managed to strengthen our security. But this does not guarantee our safety forever. “The vagrants urinate and defecate right in front of the shops, so customers won’t come. They also threaten them and pester them,” said one of the business owners there.A spokesperson for Nando’s in KZN said concern about client safety and inner city degradation was one of the reasons why they decided to close the branch. However, the size of the Nando’s branch in Church Street, only about 300 metres from the branch that had been closed, had since been doubled, and the store had also been upgraded, the spokesperson said. There were plans in the future to further expand Nando’s in the city, the spokesperson said.KFC corporate communications manager Gail Sham said the KFC Longmarket Street restaurant was recently closed because it is being relocated in the Pietermaritzburg area. “It had to be closed a bit earlier than expected as the lease came to an end before the new site we want to move to was finished. “KFC will still be present in Pietermaritzburg, we encourage our customers to look out for the new store once it is open, more details to be shared closer to the time,” she said.Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) CEO Melanie Veness told TheWitness that they are aware of the situation.She said businesses people are also ratepayers but they are operating in a derelict environment. “If more businesses close down, more people will lose their jobs. There is a lot at stake. Property owners will also suffer the consequences as their buildings would be left unoccupied,” she said.Veness said this situation requires strong decision making and strong leadership.A crowd of vagrants has taken over Hesom Street, in the area between Langalibalele Street and Jabu Ndlovu Street as their own home.