Durban - Every morning, before opening the doors to his business, Sheldon Hean has to plead with the 30 whoonga addicts sleeping at the entrance to leave.
And when they do move, Hean has to use a litre of strong detergent to remove the stench of urine and faeces before his first customer arrives.
“I don’t know what more I can do. It is becoming really hard to run a business in this city,” he said.
Hean, who runs eThekwini CV Joints in Umbilo Road, is one of dozens of business owners across Durban who are feeling the brunt of the city’s heroin epidemic.
Hundreds of whoonga addicts converge on the industrial end of Umbilo Road after dark each day seeking shelter.
In the mornings, when businesses open, they head back to the Albert Park area for their next fix, leaving a trail of empty heroin packets, cardboard boxes and filth.
“I understand that they need shelter, but it is what they do when they are here that is a problem,” Hean said.
“They have broken the security lights outside the shop, they urinate everywhere and one time they smeared faeces all over my locks. Sometimes when my customers come here, all they smell is urine and faeces.”
The whoonga addiction problem has also led to an increase in crime in the area.
Chris Padayachee, who owns an industrial electrical business next door to Hean’s workshop, had to install roller shutters on his windows. In December, the addicts succeeded in peeling the shutters open and breaking in. They made off with computers and other equipment.
Padayachee said a business across the road had to close because of the increase in crime.
“It is definitely the whoonga.”
Clive Harvey, who has run his auto engineering firm in the area for 30 years, agreed. “It is just getting worse. We have tried everything to get rid of the vagrants, but nothing changes.”
The eThekwini municipality is aware of the problem and has initiated an ambitious programme aimed at ridding the city of its whoonga problem.
The programme includes reuniting addicts with families and developing a rehabilitation centre.
Earlier this month, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo launched the Clean My City programme, described by city spokesman Thabo Mofokeng as involving clean-up operations, the identification of maintenance challenges, the enforcement of by-laws as well as an education drive to change people’s attitudes.
The metro police carried out raids in the Albert Park and so-called “Whoonga Park” areas on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week, chasing away vagrants and, according to some of them, burning their possessions, including mattresses.
On Friday, many of the vagrants escaping the metro police ran up Che Guevara (Moore) Road, into Glenwood.