Berea residents, “under siege” by whoonga addicts who have infiltrated the suburb, have warned mayor James Nxumalo that Durban was “rapidly moving to the edge of the precipice”.
In an open letter to the mayor, posted on Facebook, a local community organisation accused him of failing to address the problem and lamented the eThekwini Municipality’s alleged failure to enforce bylaws and its “serial neglect”.
The Save Our Berea (SOB) organisation was established nine months ago to “protect the rights and property” of residents.
Founder Cheryl Johnson said the letter expressed the concerns residents had over the municipality’s apparent ignorance of the “whoonga wars” that were taking place on their doorstep.
It also states that the organisation’s attempts to work with the city were met with “arrogance and ineptitude”.
Since being moved from under a bridge at the M4 entrance to the city, whoonga addicts now gather on vacant land at the corner of Leo Boyd and Anton Lembede (Smith) streets.
This is opposite the Durban University of Technology’s city campus, and a stone’s throw from the Berea. Said Johnson: “The addicts pounce on people’s children. Students are petrified; they have to run the gauntlet to get an education.”
Addressing the mayor directly, the letter reads: “It looks seriously like you have lost control over the metro police force.
Why are they not enforcing the serial breaking of the bylaws? All this smacks of total arrogance and a total lack of empathy with your citizens who contribute millions in rates alone.”
The letter criticises metro police spokesman, Sbonelo Mchunu, for having said the drug problem at the so-called “Whoonga Park”, where the addicts are based, was no longer a law enforcement issue.
“Is he for real? Sir, do you agree with him? Here are 500+ people living on the railway tracks who are taking the most addictive drug you can find and this is not a law enforcement issue? If you visit court D at the Durban Magistrate’s (Court) every day you will see people of all races being convicted and even jailed for drug possession.”
Mchunu told the Daily News that police resources were stretched to the limit.
In enforcing the bylaws, metro police were arresting vagrants by the truckload every night, Mchunu said. “They cannot be detained and after they are given a fine and a warning they go right back.”
Mchunu stressed that the drug problem was beyond one of law enforcement; it needed an integrated approach with other departments, such as social services.
Mayoral spokesman, Sthembiso Mshengu, who was sent a copy of the letter said Nxumalo was overseas. He said city bylaws had not been relaxed “for the comfort of vagrants”.
“Our law enforcement has adopted a multi-pronged approach with emphasis on social rehabilitation and medical help as part of assissting the vagrants to be reintergrated into society,” said Mshengu.
He said they would repond to the full content of the open letter in due couse.
In April the mayor launched the Qalakabusha initiative with the aim of ridding the city of vagrancy, loitering and drug abuse by December. However, SOB believes this is not enough.
“The threat to life and property is too urgent,” the letter reads. “It is also the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.
“You (Nxumalo) find it acceptable that you and any local politician that has received threats should enjoy the luxury of security that is costing us millions.
“Yet the rest of us must live in an environment where the most basic activities can lead to death, rape, serious injury and even mutilation.”
Local councillor Themba Ncane, whose ward covers the park, said he had been inundated with complaints from residents and business owners about the crime plaguing surrounding areas.
He said residents were at their wits’ end, as were members of the Shembe church who worship in the same park.
He said of concern was not only their safety, but also their health because of the human excrement found in the park.
“Everything they (whoonga addicts) do is ugly. Customers and businesses are getting robbed daily. They have made a home there, with mattresses and blankets and the filth all over the park in full view,” said Ncane.
How many people have to be robbed or die for us to realise that whoonga is killing our city?” he asked.
Residents want action
In their open letter to mayor James Nxumalo, the Save Our Berea organisation questions the “deafening silence” to serious crimes including the mutilation and murder of a homeless woman near Mitchell Park and the rape of a Glenwood resident in a park in ZK Matthews (Nicholson) Road.
Both crimes were committed two weeks ago, apparently by whoonga addicts.
The letter reads: “What will it take to get action? Would it take the murder or rape of one of your executives to wake everyone up? Heaven forbid that should happen, but that is the risk your citizens face every day. We need action. People are getting angry, very angry.”
The councillor for Glenwood and Umbilo, Nicole Graham, supported the letter, saying the problem was massive and warranted urgent intervention.
Understanding that interventions would not show results overnight, she said what the city was doing was clearly not effective and not happening fast enough.
Last month, two whoonga addicts were shot and another beaten, allegedly by a group of Mayville residents attempting to recover their stolen property from the park.
Another recent vigilante attempt left one Glenwood man shocked.
The resident, who did not want to be named, said he witnessed a whoonga addict who had tried to break into a vehicle being beaten by a mob. He said people were jumping out of their cars to throw a punch. “I have never heard such blood-curdling screams in my life.”
When he tried to stop them, he said they threatened him. “There was a horrendous hate in their eyes, these were normal people going to work and they were going berserk on this guy.”
Police said the alleged thief was arrested after he was discharged from hospital.
The DA spokeswoman on policing, Diane Kohler Bernard, said she was horrified. The MP is from Glenwood, and said the incident was an indication that people had lost confidence in the police and other authorities to do something about whoonga addiction.
“There needs to be a radical change and some real hard work done,” she said.
“I think this is the first time a mob beating has occurred in a suburb and it is highly worrying that people feel they can no longer rely on the police.”