Woonga users in a park Durban "Oslo City"

Durban - More than 400 drug addicts from Durban’s “Whoonga Park” have received referral cards to access rehabilitation services, according to eThekwini Municipality.

But its Safer Cities project senior manager Nomusa Shembe has conceded that mayor James Nxumalo’s Qalakabusha (Fresh Start) initiative to get addicts reintegrated into their families - and society - was not moving fast enough.

“It is slow,” Shembe said during a public discussion hosted by the Diakonia Council of Churches and Durban University of Technology’s Urban Futures Centre last Wednesday.

Whoonga addicts, SAPS and metro police officers, municipal officials and affected residents gathered to discuss the problem and possible solutions.

The Qalakabusha programme, launched by the municipality in April, aims to eliminate vagrancy, loitering and drug abuse in Albert Park and surrounding areas by the end of the year.

Shembe said 422 drug users had received referral cards to access rehab services. She said 226 had been screened and counselled by fourth year Unisa Social Work students, supervised by a qualified social worker.

As there was only one public rehab centre in Durban, only 60 of the 226 addicts would be admitted from August to November, she said, explaining that the facility had limited bed capacity as it was being renovated.

She said another problem was that there was no public rehabilitation centre for children under the age of 18, except a subsidised facility operated by Durban Children’s Home that catered for only 10 children over a period of three months.

“Private rehabilitation centres (are) too expensive.”

She said some of the addicts referred to rehab centres either did not follow up on appointments or were not willing to return home after wards.

There were also law enforcement challenges, she said.

“Arrests are constrained by lack of detention facilities within SAPS. Some people were to be transported to Ntuzuma SAPS hence (they were) released on warning.”

She said metro police members deployed to monitor the addicts were continually rotated, meaning there was little continuity in policing, which undermined efforts to tackle the problem, Shembe said.

One whoonga addict who spoke at the meeting criticised the Qalakabusha programme for being too slow in achieving results. “Some of us do want to be helped,” she said.

Members of the public at the meeting demanded to know from police why no whoonga dealers had been arrested.

“It’s no use to point fingers… we do operations every week. These people (addicts) have been arrested, but what happens when they go to court? They get a warning, get out to go back (to the park),” said a Durban central SAPS member who did not want to be named because she was not authorised to speak to the media.

“If we leave it for too long, this is going to be a problem. We cannot have one rehab centre when we have a lot of people using drugs,” she said.

A Durban metro police captain said: “People do not tell us who the sellers are. We cannot rely on rumours, and the challenge we have is with the dealers. It is very hard to know who the dealers are, whereas we look at the smokers.”

The provincial government said it would work closely with eThekwini municipality to deal with the issue of whoonga in the city.

Premier Senzo Mchunu last week announced the formation of a provincial task team to deal with the problem. While details were still being finalised, the premier’s office said it would use the same approach it used in fighting drugs in Chatsworth.

“Most important to this process would be community involvement. We will be working with all the stakeholders, especially the community leaders,” said Ndabe Sibiya, the spokesman for the premier.

He said law enforcement agencies, especially crime intelligence, would be involved in trying to curb the proliferation of drugs in the city.

Kwanele Ncalane, the spokesman for the provincial Department of Community Safety and Liaison, said the government had already intervened in Whoonga Park, but did not provide details.

“We have sent our officials there and we started a project of partnering up the addicts with their families. It is not only about law enforcement but there is the social aspect to it as well.”

Shembe said city research had found that most of the people living at Whoonga Park wanted to go home.

“It was found that 80 percent were males and 20 percent females, 24 percent had finished grade 12, 10 percent were over the age of 35, 10 percent under the age of 18, 54 percent had IDs, 93 percent wanted to go back home, 7 percent did not want to return home, 90 percent were doing drugs and 266 did seek help at the newly opened Qalakabusha Centre.”

Daily News