Durban - The alleged failure of eThekwini Municipality to enforce by-laws had led to rampant prostitution, rising crime and falling property values in Glenwood, irate residents have said.
About 400 residents met municipal officials, including deputy city manager, Dr Musa Gumede, local councillors and police on Tuesday night.
The Umbilo Community Police Forum, the Commission for Gender Equality and the sex worker-led organisation, Sisonke, organised the meeting.
While most of the residents were opposed to prostitution, several expressed their support for its decriminalisation, government licensing and regulation. They said providing social services and health-care facilities in the area would be a solution.
Prostitution had become a “major problem”, Umbilo Community Police Forum chairman, Ben Madokwe, said. He said he had called the meeting “not to fight”, but to find a way forward.
“Residents and business owners are fed up with the attitude, filth and disgusting behaviour of prostitutes, never mind that the area has taken a huge downward slide with the selling of properties,” Madokwe said. “Our children are not able to use the parks because of the filth some of the sex workers leave behind. Some of our parks are only used by sex workers to conduct their business.
“Children in nearby schools are being exposed to the methods these ladies use to attract their clients, such as lifting up their dresses and exposing their bodies.”
Madokwe said drug peddling was also a problem, and “questionable B&Bs” and rooms for rent by the hour had popped up in the area. He claimed many of the local prostitutes were drug addicts working to “feed” their habits. “Prostitution is bringing gangsterism to our area – pimps and drug lords fighting over territory.”
Madokwe said many known repeat offenders either “walked away” or got small fines for loitering before returning to the streets.
Commission for Gender Equality commissioner, Janine Hicks, said prostitution was illegal in South Africa, although the Law Reform Commission had been busy with a report on reviewing legislation around prostitution since 2007.
She said a model used in Sweden of “partial criminalisation” – that targeted the buyer of sex rather than the sex worker – had been proposed as a model for South Africa that would dissuade sex work.
“If you criminalise, prosecute, arrest and charge buyers of sex work, you will reduce the demand for sex work and then sex work will be eliminated,” Hicks said.
She said criminalisation had not prevented prostitution, but resulted in human rights abuses as it violated prostitutes’ rights to human dignity, to work, to freedom and security of person and to access health care.
“We believe decriminalisation is required in South Africa. We feel it is the only way to ensure rights are protected.”
Sisonke’s provincial co-ordinator, Thuli Khoza, said prostitutes were victims of rape, murder and abuse and faced assault by the police and the public.
DA councillor, Nicole Graham, said residents had “unanimously rejected” sex work and its “ill effects” in the suburb.
She said interventions to help young women who had turned to prostitution were needed.
“The overwhelming feeling in the community is we don’t want sex work here, it is having a disastrous social-economic effect on our much-loved community.”
Graham said she had given the municipality an inventory of all the buildings where suspected brothels and drug dens were operating.
“That was submitted to the town planning section of the municipality for action and they didn’t come back to me. And none of those properties were even zoned for business use let alone for hospitality purposes,” Graham said.
Resident, Graham Muller and Save Our Berea member Kevin Dunkley, said the municipality was to blame for the scourge of crime, grime and prostitution.
“We are seeing the symptoms of a bigger problem – it’s the city that is the problem. We had a meeting with the city manager last Friday. We had five or six meetings with officials and the problem is that we all say the right things but there are officials in the city who are not doing their job and are actually working against you in what you are saying,” Dunkley said.
“We have the by-laws in place already and to throw away property values is something people don’t care about. The property values of people in this room are the biggest investment people have ever made. It’s their life’s savings.”
Dunkley urged the city not to let property values slide. “City officials need to start doing their jobs,” he said. “We need an efficient city council so we can get the by-laws implemented.”
Gumede responded that the city was aware of the issues facing Glenwood.
“We are not sitting back and not doing anything,” he said.
Gumede promised to follow up on concerns and allegations regarding illegal businesses and obstructive city officials.
“We know that the area has been invaded by sex workers and this is not the only area that has such a challenge. There are other areas – Mahatma Gandhi area, the Albert Park area and Morningside which have been affected as well.”
He said the city was divided into six zones and he recognised that some were “decaying”. He said the municipality was tackling the problem of decaying buildings and had launched an inner-city pilot project that entailed the use of CCTV cameras and security guards. This might be rolled out to other areas.
Gumede said the city was planning to implement “an integrated team” to focus on enforcing by-laws “as soon as possible”.