Durban - Drug pedlars and other criminals are believed to be operating and hiding in a network of stormwater and cable tunnels covering a 4km² area between the harbour and Glenwood.
This emerged during a raid and clean-up operation by the metro police near Albert Park, including the area informally known as “Whoonga Park”, at the weekend.
Metro police Superintendent, Anand Maharaj, who headed the operation, said more raids were planned for the area.
Metro police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi, said they had found what appeared to be powder used in the manufacture of whoonga, packing material, as well as mattresses and pieces of clothing. “This suggests to us that people are squatting here. The conditions in the tunnels are unsafe, which proved to be an obstacle. We could not go further.
“We are still trying to establish the number of individuals living in the tunnels,” Msomi said.
A metro policeman said the tunnels spiralled in every direction. “They can get to most areas in central Durban. They can use one tunnel to go towards Berea, another to Glenwood and one to Umbilo,” he said on Tuesday morning.
The policeman, who cannot be named because he is not allowed to speak to the press, said they had been aware of criminals using the tunnels for some time but they had been unable to get them to stop.
“We have tried bolting the tunnels with metal rods but what they end up doing is knocking it off and selling it for scrap. We have to come up with a way to close those permanently but also make it accessible for the municipal workers,” he said.
The tunnels were being used by criminals to escape from the police after committing a crime, the officer said.
“After a robbery or housebreaking they get into the tunnels and escape. While we are at the top looking for them, they are underground making their escape. We have found all sorts of things down there including matresses and pots which means that they are even living down there,” he said.
Municipal spokesman, Thabo Mofokeng, said municipal engineers would help the police identify other underground tunnels in the city where people could be living illegally.
“All relevant law enforcement agencies have been notified of the tunnels and they will be cleared and properly sealed to prevent any more squatters invading them.”
Because of the influx of homeless and foreigners, the municipality has fenced several open areas under the M4 Highway and has employed about 66 security guards to patrol the Warwick Avenue and Albert Park areas.