Rounding up KZN robot beggarsComment on this story
Durban - Threading his way between the cars, carefully keeping on the white lines, the young man cuts a pitiful figure - shirtless and hunched over, he walks with a limp. His forearm and hand are contorted into a grotesque position.
But when a blue-and-white metro police van appears, the little boy who begs for money at traffic intersections stages what appears to be a startling recovery.
He loses the hump and limp; his hand and arm relax out of their unnatural stiffness.
He then runs like the wind for more than a kilometre.
With the metro police in pursuit, the youngster flees from King Dinuzulu Road (Berea) to Berea shopping Centre before he is eventually caught by an officer of the force’s special vagrancy unit.
The boy was one of 19 arrested on Sunday as part of what had been a three-week long metro police campaign against begging in public.
The Daily News was invited to join the operation to see just how the unit was trying to rid the city of vagrancy.
Instead of several police vehicles driving around the city, the unit, which is based at the metro police’s Albert Park offices, opted for two unmarked minibus taxis, which they hoped would give them an element of surprise.
A truck to carry those arrested arrived after the raids.
In Margaret Mncadi Avenue (Victoria Embankment), they nabbed a beggar.
Further along at the Stalwart Simelane (Stanger) Street intersection, three were caught - but not without some difficulty.
Two were young boys who made a dash for it, in different directions, to test the cop’s fitness in a 200m sprint.
An elderly man tried to coolly walk off into a parking area but was also caught. Police pointed to pieces of bread, cooldrink cans and urine stains on the light pole near where they had been seated.
In Sandile Thusi (Argyle) Road, several “Mr Bin” beggars, who collect rubbish from motorist in return for change, were caught.
The verges nearby were strewn with rubbish and cardboard boxes where they slept.
Police also rounded up several more, after a good chase, near Suncoast and the M4.
The men were charged with begging in public, were given a warning and were told to appear in court on Monday.
The men said they were doing it for money and shelter fees.
On Thursday, the Berea community police forum held a placard awareness campaign at the intersection of Stephen Dlamini (Essenwood) and St Thomas roads after reports that beggars in the area had become increasingly unruly if they were not given anything by motorists.
Campaigners handed out pamphlets encouraging people not to give them money, but instead donate to a local child welfare or non-government organisation.
The vagrancy unit has arrested 2 541 vagrants across the city’s suburbs, parks and surrounding areas since it was formed three weeks ago.
Clean-up operations involve 60 officers who drive through “every area in Durban” rounding up addicts and vagrants every morning.