Durban - City Watch has tried for weeks to get the eThekwini City Council to explain why a group of whoonga addicts several hundred strong is being allowed to live on public ground a stone’s throw from the City Campus of the Durban University of Technology (DUT).
This week public anger at the city’s inaction on the issue led to vigilante action by Glenwood residents that resulted in gunshot injuries.
We have learnt of other acts of public violence against whoonga addicts by Dalton Hostel residents and tracked down five DUT students from the city campus who have been attacked by addicts for money to buy the highly addictive drug.
Phindile Myaka, 23, was left badly bruised and traumatised after being attacked by a knife-wielding whoonga addict near Berea Centre last week. She said she is now constantly afraid.
“He demanded a cellphone and when I told him I didn’t have one, he pulled out a knife and manhandled me,” she said. “I live alone and now I am too scared to leave my flat when the sun goes down, but I have to walk to and from tech every day, and I am so scared all the time.
“All my friends feel the same. There is no parking at DUT, so all of us have to walk or catch public transport. They watch us all the time. We are like cash cows for them… They rob us to pay to stay high. No one is doing anything and it is going to get worse.”
The other four reported being threatened with a knife and robbed of cellphones and money. They complained about the lack of action by both the city and DUT to protect them.
A senior lecturer who could not be named expressed concern for student safety and feared enrolment figures would drop if the situation persisted.
City Watch attempted without success to speak to the acting dean of the arts faculty at DUT City Campus, despite several attempts.
In addition to the vigilantism earlier this week, during which several armed Glenwood residents tried to recover goods stolen from their homes, and an altercation with addicts that escalated until shots were fired and arrests made, news leaked out of the brutal rape of a Glenwood resident in a park off Nicholson Road.
The woman had been looking for her pet cat when she was set upon, raped and had her genitals mutilated.
In another tragic incident, a homeless woman was murdered in Florida Road (see separate story). Police have not arrested any suspects, but residents in both areas fear the crimes may also be the work of homeless whoonga addicts.
Cheryl Johnson, local filmmaker and founder of the Save Our Berea Working Committee, which has several thousand followers, did not mince words.
“The response to the murder and the rape has been huge on our Facebook page, with over 2 000 hits recorded in a few hours when the news broke. We are both saddened and horrified by these events. However, we are not surprised.
“Vagrants, boy beggars and whoonga addicts do as they please in our suburbs without any real fear of removal or censure. We are now reaping the whirlwind of not only a dysfunctional Metro Police force and under-resourced and demotivated SAPS, but a council seemingly without leadership or the know-how to find a real solution to deal with the crisis.”
Johnson said the “insidious and serial” failure by the city to enforce by-laws was the reason for the current crisis.
“Not implementing a workable programme to remove and rehabilitate whoonga addicts before they turned into a small army has resulted in the city losing the war. The addicts are the victors; the ratepayers the losers.”
She said vigilantism sent a clear message that the Durban community had lost faith in local government and law enforcement to defend their lives and property.
“Given the seriousness of the latest attack, Save Our Berea believes the city must act with urgency and so we challenge city manager Sibusiso Sithole to give ratepayers a clear statement of intent regarding the crisis.
“We would like to know what he intends to do beyond the pre-election photo calls? When are we going to see results of the Albert Park whoonga rehabilitation project? When will he respond to our request for the Urban Management Zone project to be reactivated and extended to the Berea, Glenwood and Sydenham areas?”
Ben Madokwe, chairman of the Umbilo Community Policing Forum, said he was aware of several acts of vigilantism by residents of the Dalton Road hostel, which is close to where the whoonga addicts gather.
“As a result of them settling next to Botha Gardens and DUT there has been a drastic increase in the incidence of housebreakings, muggings and thefts from cars in our area. Even the men who live in the Dalton Road Hostel are regularly being mugged and having money and cellphones stolen by the addicts on their way to and from work.
“Recently the Dalton Road residents had had enough and they attacked and injured some of the addicts. Police were called to restore order. This was not the first instance of retaliation,” he said.
Madokwe questioned why police were not arresting the addicts, who sell and use their drugs in the open with impunity.
“If the city does not get on top of this problem then more people are going to retaliate like the guys at Dalton. The situation must be managed, because these addicts are a very real danger to all of us,” he said.
“Whoonga makes people crazed. They are in an out-of-mind state and are aggressive and dangerous. They get desperate for a fix when the drug starts to wear off and they have no thought of consequences. They will do anything to get money for more of the drug.”
He said the addicts had infiltrated many parks in Umbilo and Glenwood, and were harassing shopkeepers.
“You can call the police, but as soon as they go, the addicts are back again. To tackle the issue we need to present a united front. And if the city cannot cope, then they must arrest these people for drug dealing, taking drugs, and loitering.
“This problem was ignored by the city and now it is huge. What resources is council going to commit to the programme? When are they going to act? Only one thing is certain: this problem is not going to go away by itself.”
City Watch has reported before on the city’s Qalakabusha Intervention Programme launched just before the election.
It is reportedly designed to get on top of the whoonga and homelessness problems in Durban. However, Tozi Mthethwa, spokeswoman for eThekwini, conceded that this alone is not enough.
“Qalakabusha seeks to deal with the psychosocial treatment and social skills intervention of people living on the streets and since its launch 335 people have requested rehabilitation.
“The department of social development will be taking 10 of those on June 23 to the Newlands Park rehabilitation centre where they will receive treatment for three months.
“Most of them want to return home only after they have received treatment.
“The challenge with outpatient treatment that the Department of Health has promised is that a person taken in should have a support system that will monitor and support him or her. Private treatment centres are expensive and not accessible to street people.
“The city is looking for a facility which will be used as a transitional shelter where some people will be moved outside the city centre, particularly men. This plan is being managed by Human Settlements and once the facility has been secured some people will be moved there, but only those who are committed to being rehabilitated.
“The city has a set of by-laws which accord us the powers to enforce the law in case of contraventions. Those who persist with illicit activities after we have provided ideas and resources to eradicate this challenge will face the full might of the law. The metro police force is working in collaboration with the SAPS to address some of the issues that require law enforcement.”
Colonel Jay Naicker, SAPS spokesman, said he could not give City Watch statistics on the number of crimes committed by whoonga addicts in Durban suburbs in the past six months.
“(The release of) crime statistics remain the prerogative of the minister of police. While this group is present, they are migratory in the sense that they move from one area to another. If and when any of these people are involved in the commission of crime the appropriate law enforcement transpires.”
Naicker said police did enforce the law when it was broken. This included arresting drug suppliers when they were apprehended.
“The root problem is a social one and there are several initiatives attempting to deal with the issue. Arrests for vagrancy do not bring a permanent solution as these are seen as petty offences and do not carry the threat of a jail sentence.”