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2019-03-08 14:04

Mayor Themba Njilo has shut down the infamous Freedom Square Park to chase away drug dealers and the many schoolchildren who take drugs there during school hours.

This was announced after Thursday’s “disruption operation” during which hundreds of cough mixture bottles, dagga and dagga-infused muffins, and knifes were found when bags and cars were searched.

The blitz was conducted by the police, the City’s security guards and a team from the Department of Environment Affairs, which was led by Deputy Minister Barbara Thomson.

The law enforcement officers found schoolchildren hanging around in groups under the trees.

Some had brought a change of clothes and had hidden their school uniforms in their bags. When the police confronted them most lied about why they were not in school. Most claimed they had been dismissed after writing tests in the morning.

One of them changed her story more than four times in less than 10 minutes. She first claimed she was not a pupil, but by the end of the police questioning she said that she had a tourism and maths test in the morning.

The blitz coincided with Msunduzi’s clean-up campaign, in which Njilo led hundreds of City officials, ANC volunteers and councillors as they tackled waste collection, grass cutting and illegal dumping around the CBD.

“The only way to deal with the blatant drug peddling and use at this park is to shut it down. From tomorrow [Friday] we will have guards stationed here so that only the main entrance will be accessible to people going to court, because they use the parking here,” said Njilo.

He said his office had received numerous complaints about the conduct of the schoolchildren who occupied the facility, but he was still shocked when he witnessed it on Thursday.

“Initially I thought I’d first engage the leadership before closing it, but after seeing what I just saw I realised that shutting it down couldn’t wait until then. I’m sure the councillors will understand that I’m acting in the best interest of our youth who are slowly killing themselves with drugs. We will be renovating this facility so that it’s restored to its former glory but when it reopens — and that’s if council allows it — we are not going to allow the illegal activities to continue.”

Cluster commander General Phumelele Makhoba and her team also phoned the parents of some of the teenagers and told them to fetch their children or pick them up from the Loop Street police station later.

One of the mothers who fetched her 16-year old daughter was close to tears when The Witness tried to interview her. “I’m trying but I just don’t know what to do with her anymore,” she said, walking away.

Makhoba said this was not the last of the “disruption operations” they would be conducting around CBD. She said the aim was to deal with social ills such as crime and drug abuse.

“We’ve been receiving reports about school kids indulging in cough mixture when they should be in school so we are going to be hitting all the spots where they converge.”

She said children mixed the cough mixture with cooldrink into a brew known variously as “sizzurp”, “purple drank”, “syrup” or “lean”.

Hundreds of cough mixture bottles were found during Thursday’s ‘disruption operation’ at the Freedom Square Park. 

A man selling muffins infused with dagga was arrested but none of the children were charged.

Deputy minister Thomson said it broke her heart to witness the degradation of the park, as it used to be the pride of the city when she was growing up in Pietermaritzburg.

She said there needed to be some engagements with social workers and parents on how to address the scourge of drug abuse amongst teenagers.

“We can’t blame the teachers for what we are seeing here today. Parents have to get involved in the monitoring of their children.”

She said the supermarkets and pharmacists that sell cough mixture must also be made aware of its illegal uses.

Thomson also appealed to foreign nationals to play their part in cleaning up the areas they lived in and fighting against criminal activities. “The majority of them are conducting business illegally but they are only interested in profits. They don’t care about the damage they are causing to the infrastructure and the environment.”

She said the fines for breaching the City’s bylaws and environmental regulations were obviously not high enough to deter people from committing further violations. She added that she did not know how long the government would be able to protect them because their conduct was slowly getting on the nerves of many South Africans. “If we are not careful, our citizens will turn against us because they feel that we are giving them [foreigners] a free ride, something we don’t even do to them.”


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