On a freezing cold night, many Durban vagrants had to walk back from Amanzimtoti to the city centre after being rounded up by metro police as part of the city’s “clean-up” campaign.
eThekwini Municipality confirmed that it was pressing on with its clean-up campaign of the city centre, which included “removing people off the streets”.
In the most recent case of alleged metro police bullying, a group of homeless men said police had rounded them up on Thursday morning outside the Durban City Hall and dropped them off in Amanzimtoti.
“There were 10 cars and all the departments here, and we weren’t doing anything wrong but they pushed us around and into their van and drove off with us stuffed in the back,” said Kevin Fenner, who has been living on Durban’s streets for several years.
Some of the men walked back to Durban, about 20km, while others hitched a lift back to town.
“We are not the whoonga people, we don’t do the wrong things, but metro police always do this to us, especially now in winter,” said Gary Schreuder.
They also accused metro police officers of taking away their bags containing jerseys and blankets which they needed in winter.
“The other day Durban Solid Waste came with metro and our bags were thrown into the bin truck. Some of the people had their IDs in their bags,” said Adriaan Lukas.
The group, who said they were all “like family”, were especially worried as they knew the municipality was on a clean-up campaign.
“We have to watch our backs and run away when we see them coming. But they must talk to us, some of us are boat builders and diesel mechanics. We can work,” said Lukas.
City spokesman Thabo Mofokeng confirmed the campaign and said:
“We have to enforce the bylaws and we don’t want people living on the streets. We don’t just dump people in far-off places, we ask them where they come from, and often even drop them back right at their homes.”
The city had a two-fold approach to firstly talk to the homeless people and see how they could be helped.
“We have social workers and NGOs on board to help the people our of their circumstances, but some people don’t want to make use of what we are offering. We cannot allow them to remain on the streets for ever. We are acting in the best interests of the citizens as people are complaining about the homeless people as well as the whoonga addicts.”
Meanwhile, soup kitchens have seen an increase in the number of people seeking a hot plate of food. Madeline Pearson, who heads the soup kitchen at the Durban North Methodist Church, said a hot bowl of soup was sometimes the only meal some of the people had in days.
The kitchen operates on a Tuesday and Friday. “Some people walk from as far as KwaMashu to have the soup, bread and a fruit,” she said.
Between 40 and 60 people come to the kitchen for a meal.
“There has been a slight increase in the numbers we’ve seen over these past few very cold days,” said Pearson, adding that blankets and jerseys had also been distributed recently.
Zakhira Shaik, who runs the Crisis Careline organisation in Wentworth, said they have had an increase in the number of children seeking a hot meal.
“We have so many children coming through, even bringing dirty containers, just to receive some soup and bread,” said Shaik, explaining that the increase in children was largely due to the school holidays.
Shaik said they had also been distributing blankets to people living in a nearby informal settlement.
“It gets very cold in the shacks and we have distributed the blankets we had left over from last year, but we are in need of more,” said Shaik.
The organisation runs skills classes for the unemployed and distributes food parcels.
Durban’s elderly have also been bearing the brunt of the cold weather.
Femada Shamam, the divisional manager of social services at The Association for the Aged, said the elderly had suffered in Durban’s recent cold spell.
“Those who suffer from ailments such as arthritis will find that it’s been exacerbated by the cold, and others are opting to stay indoors.”
Wisani Maluleke, a forecaster at the South African Weather Service, said that a new cold front was expected to hit the province on Saturday, though temperatures were not expected to be as low as in the past week.