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The dune forest along part of Durban’s pristine beachfront promenade has become a hideout for thieves and a dumping ground for their discarded loot.
Alerted by beachfront residents and car guards, a team from the Daily News visited the area this week and signs that the dune was being used for criminal activity were clearly evident.
The natural dune forest stabilises the beach and plays an important role in nature conservation by preventing the sea sand from swamping the land. But its thick vegetation and lush greenery also provide an ideal hide-out for thieves, whose spoils of crime, including empty wallets, identity documents and driving licences that they have stolen from people, were discarded inside the fenced-off area.
Criminals sneak alongside the green palisade fence that winds around the dune forest to a crooked pathway that leads to two holes in the fence – about 20m apart from each other – on the beach side of the dune forest.
It’s a serene spot along Battery Beach, rarely frequented by beachgoers, and is an ideal hideout, where the silence is broken by waves crashing on the shore.
Inside, a network of pathways snakes deep into the forest. Take-away boxes, used condoms, plastic bags and discarded clothing litter the ground. The stench of human excrement is overwhelming.
Alongside the pathways a bank card, a fashion chain store card and a library card lie abandoned.
Hajra Osman, of Overport, recently fell victim to a bag snatcher who, after taking the money from her purse, dumped her bag in the dune forest.
“We were having a picnic near Mini Town,” Osman said. “My husband and my kids were playing cricket nearby when all of a sudden this man came up to where I was relaxing and grabbed my bag. He sprinted away before we could catch him, disappearing into the bush area.”
The next day, on a hunch, Hajra’s husband went to the dune forest to see if he could retrieve his wife’s belongings when he came across the hole in the fence. Assisted by his gardener, the pair went into the dune forest where they found Hajra’s discarded bag, including her driving licence and bank cards.
“It was such luck that I found my belongings,” she said. “My husband said there were many bags in there.”
A homeless man washing clothes near one of the holes in the fence said he often saw young men going into the forest.
“They come from town with whatever they have stolen that day and go deep inside,” he said. “They’re criminals,” he added. “Some even sleep in there.”
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Mdunge said officers did re- gular patrols in the area, either on horseback or driving all- terrain vehicles.
He said they had not received any reports of criminal activity linked to the dunes, but would investigate.
“We will direct our intelligence over that area to establish exactly what it is being used for,” Mdunge said.