Durban - The tragic death of a homeless woman in a lower Glenwood park has given a human face to the unfolding “Whoonga Park” drama.
It reveals a life not only of hardship, drugs, crime and despair, but also of love and hope.
Zodwa Majola, 31, died early on Tuesday after being injured when she found herself in the middle of a violent clash between vagrants and residents six weeks ago.
Majola and her partner, Thabiso Madlala, had been living in Davenport Avenue Park for about a year, with about 20 other vagrants.
Last month she was pelted with stones during the clash between vagrants from the so-called Whoonga Park, near King Dinuzulu Park, and residents, allegedly from Dalton Hostel although the hostel had denied any involvement.
The mother of two had been walking with Madlala, the father of her children, Andisiwe, 11, and Busisiwe, 12, to buy food at the hostel when a mob carrying sticks and stones appeared. She was struck on the leg by a large stone and her leg had been swollen since then.
As the mortuary van carried her body away from the park on Tuesday, her swollen foot and leg could still be seen.
Majola had refused to go to hospital and had complained of stomach pains regularly too. On the night before she died the pain had returned, said a teary Madlala.
“I have to go to her home in Kokstad to tell them (her family) in person that she is no more, because they know she is with me. We were always together; we loved each other,” he said.
“This is such a disaster, I don’t know what I will do without her; she is the only woman I have ever loved.”
The couple had been together since Majola was 15, but were separated when Madlala was sent to prison for 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, for armed robbery.
At the time, Majola had fled Kokstad for Durban where she led a life of prostitution in order to survive. She had stopped, however, at Madlala’s insistence.
The couple had lived at the notorious Whoonga Park but left after Madlala clashed with other addicts who he said had accused him of being a traitor for blowing the whistle on their activities to “white people”.
“I don’t want to do things that will get me back in jail,” Madlala said on Tuesday. “I don’t ever want to go back there again and I have my children to take care of, that is why I ask for help where I can and I clean this park (Davenport Avenue Park). I don’t want trouble,” he said, breaking down once more.
A sympathetic municipal worker gave Madlala R80 for his journey back home to uMzimkhulu, where he said he would now remain permanently.
He hoped to return only to take Majola’s body back to her family in Kokstad.
Madlala said he had registered for mayor James Nxumalo’s Qalakabusha Intervention Programme, which seeks to rehabilitate whoonga users and find them employment. In his programme card he stated bricklaying as his skill.
He and the other vagrants at the park sleep in open areas on cardboard. Their blankets are squashed into a green garbage packet, with other basics such as clothes, toothpaste and utensils.
Food was hard to come by and only a piece of bread could be seen sticking out of a bag Madlala was carrying.
Heather Rorick, chairwoman of the Bulwer Community Safety Forum, said she was aware of Majola being struck during the clashes last month. She also knew of the group living at the park since last year.
Rorick was critical of the Qalakabusha programme, saying the wheels were turning too slowly.
It was not ideal for the vagrants to stay at the park, she said, adding that the city should take action before the numbers swelled.
Ben Madokwe, chairman of the Umbilo Police Forum, said an indaba was needed to address the issue of homelessness, bringing together whoonga addicts and all stakeholders – NGOs, government agencies, business and religious institutions.
“Fine, we know that some of the homeless are drug users, but they need help and they need shelter too,” he said. “We all have a responsibility.
“We need to address the issue of shelters – how do we deal with it and stop people from sleeping in parks. We need those who can be linked with their families to ensure they are reunited, not this dumping of people in other towns, because they come back.”
Bernie Carr, owner of A&B Electrical, which is close to the park, said it was tough doing business in Umbilo. He arrives just before 7am to wash away human faeces and used condoms on his doorstep.
On a walkabout with the Daily News, we found 16 used condoms outside his property's back entrance and puddles of faeces.
Carr admitted he could not offer a solution to the vagrant problem.