Durban - Police chased whoonga addicts and vagrants from King Dinuzulu Park near the CBD on Thursday night, setting fire to their meagre possessions.
In a joint operation by SAPS, metro police and home affairs, 91 people were arrested for various crimes, including being in the country illegally, in possession of drugs and of illegal weapons.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the raid was to root out wanted suspects and illegal immigrants.
He said 87 illegal immigrants were awaiting deportation.
Most vagrants, who have been living near Botha’s Park, which is bordered by Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street, Anton Lembede (Smith) Street and Leo Boyd Highway, fled when police arrived just after 7pm. Police cordoned off local roads to avoid motorists getting caught up in the drama.
Hundreds of vagrants ran along Lancers Road and Julius Nyerere (Warwick) Avenue into nearby streets and taxi ranks. Some could be seen carrying their belongings.
Once the park had been cleared, police searched for whoonga using torches, but came away largely empty-handed.
They were also unable to catch any of the drug dealers.
The fire department was called to extinguish several fires, left unattended by the vagrants, which had spread in the park. Meanwhile, Durban Solid Waste workers swept the park and removed piles of rubbish, clothing and blankets. Workers and police threw old mattresses and clothing on to fires.
A spokeswoman for the eThekwini Municipality, Tozi Mthethwa, said the operation was aimed at processing vagrants as well as looking for drugs and weapons and suspected criminals.
She said some people were taken to a metro police satellite station where their details, photographs and fingerprints were captured. They were not arrested.
“The operation is part of an ongoing campaign to deal with vagrancy, loitering, crime and grime in the city,” Mthethwa said.
The municipality is working together with other government agencies and NGOs to assist vagrants, mainly local youths, to deal with their drug addiction and integrate them into society.
Interventions include the establishment of reception centres which will provide intermediary services prior to them being sent to rehabilitation centres.
Mthethwa said police visibility had been increased in the Berea and Glenwood area.
Umbilo/Glenwood Community Policing Forum chairman, Ben Madokwe, said in a statement last night that the park had been a playground for criminals.
“The dealers control the park to satisfy their customers and their pockets. (Customers) have to steal to feed their drug habit,” he said.
“We support the municipality’s programme to rehabilitate them.”
Ongoing police pressure had pushed the vagrants from Albert Park in Margaret Mncadi Avenue to the bottom end of Che Guevera Road, then along the train lines and across Botha’s Park. Here the vagrants had begun a crime spree, making it a no-go area for passing workers and Durban University of Technology students.
Last month, a mob said to be from Dalton Hostel, angry at the high number of robberies, beat up some of the vagrants.