Taking back the city’s streets

2017-03-13 13:21
Msunduzi Mayor Themba Njilo speaks to vagrants in the city centre on a tour of the city’s streets at night. This was part of his efforts to clean up the CBD and help those living on the streets to become ‘contributing citizens’.

Msunduzi Mayor Themba Njilo speaks to vagrants in the city centre on a tour of the city’s streets at night. This was part of his efforts to clean up the CBD and help those living on the streets to become ‘contributing citizens’. (Ian Carbutt)

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Msunduzi Mayor Themba Njilo wants the Pietermaritzburg community to take back the city’s streets.

After visiting numerous derelict hot spots frequented by vagrants, many who are believed to be hooked on whoonga, Njilo said he wanted the city’s streets cleared as soon as possible.

The drive around the city on Thursday night found councillors and the mayor in the “slums” of Pietermaritzburg with filth strewn across the streets and huddles of people sittings around toxic fires openly smoking whoonga and dagga.

Wearing old, ragged clothes with some covered in blankets, the groups of vagrants continued with their night-life activities, not fazed by the convoy of municipal vehicles.

Njilo has now approached the departments of Social Development and Health to step in to help Msunduzi Municipality in this endeavour to clear the streets.

The council’s executive committee, led by Njilo, visited groups of people living on Retief, Hoosen Haffejee and Langalibalele streets on Thursday night in an effort to get to grips with the root of the issues plaguing business owners and residents there.

Following the closure of the notorious beer hall, the whoonga-smoking vagrants­ who used to live there scattered themselves around the CBD, camping in large crowds outside businesses and residents’ homes, openly smoking and trading in whoonga.

Residents and business owners are on edge, fearing they could be targeted by the groups of vagrants, many of whom appear high on drugs. They have pleaded for the authorities to intervene.

Responding to their calls for help, Njilo spent about three hours last week out on the streets in the CBD.

Speaking to youngsters who sat around a fire made from debris, sticks and plastic, Njilo encouraged them to go back to their homes and families and “earn an honest living”.

The stench of old garbage, toxic fires and stale clothes filled the air through Retief and Hoosen Haffejee streets.

Njilo, with a look of pity on his face, told the vagrants that he has approached the Department of Health and the Department of Social Development, which would send staff to visit the areas­ to assist those who want to be helped.

“There will be social workers and nurses that will come around to help you but you must be willing to be helped. There is a better life out there for all of you and you being the youth, our hopes are on you,” he told them.

The team of councillors, police and municipal security also visited the vagrants who are using the main Pietermaritzburg Post Office as their home at night.

At around 8 pm there were already more than 10 people covered with blankets sleeping on the verandah of the post office. The stench of urine hung in the air, but undeterred, Njilo walked up to speak to them.

The usually calm and jovial Njilo was clearly shaken when he found men and women sharing mattresses and blankets. He immediately tried to wake them up to find out what circumstances had led to them having to live on the streets, but many continued sleeping.

Those who woke up to listen to Njilo, agreed that they did not want to be on the streets and told him they would accept whatever help he offered.

“We cannot throw our people away. We had to close the beer hall but now the people who lived there are disturbing the residents and businesses,” he told The Witness.

Njilo said with March the month to celebrate human rights in South Africa, he wanted the streets cleared of vagrants and to have them placed in proper care facilities where they could flush the drugs out of their bodies and be reinstated into society as “contributing citizens”.

“They need to keep the areas clean and work with the government to facilitate a programme to get them off the streets. No one deserves to sleep in the street,” Njilo said.


Since the closure of the eMatsheni Beerhall in Retief Street last year, streets in the Pietermaritzburg CBD have been taken over by vagrants who have nowhere else to live.

Msunduzi’s mayor Themba Njilo and other councillors visited these hotspots to speak to the vagrants in an effort to clean up the streets.

Read more on:    pietermarizburg  |  witness warrior

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