Darius Fourie, who lives in and out of homelessness, says he has been at the receiving end of harassment and assault from law enforcers.     Duncan Guy
Darius Fourie, who lives in and out of homelessness, says he has been at the receiving end of harassment and assault from law enforcers. Duncan Guy

Durban tries to get street wise

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Mar 7, 2020

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Police and homeless people, drug users and sex workers who face one another in unpleasant circumstances out on the streets have been able to connect with one another at a meeting facilitated by visiting police officers from the US.

“A group of police officials from the US were recently in Durban to report on the effectiveness of strategies that address under-lying problems rather than just bluntly enforcing the law,” according to the Denis Hurley Centre, a partner in the project along with eThekwini Municipality, DUT Urban Futures Centre, TB/HIV Care and the Sphephelo organisation that is involved in the welfare of girls and young women in Durban.

“The visitors facilitated a meeting between local police and homeless people, drug users and sex workers.

“This was made possible thanks to our partners: eThekwini Municipality, DUT Urban Futures Centre, TB/HIV Care and Sphephelo.

“One of the main problems that homeless people in Durban face is the impact of law enforcement, whether by metro police, SAPS or private security firms,” said a statement from the centre.

“While some of it could be because of ‘rogue officers’, it is also clear there are policing practices initiated, or at least condoned, by the authorities that amount to human rights abuses.

“We have thus been discussing with the SA Human Rights Commission the possibility of launching an investigation into this area.”

Meanwhile, on the legal front, for the past two years homeless people have been empowered to stand up for themselves by attending sessions on weekend mornings with final year UKZN law students.

They share their experiences and learn to stand up for themselves.

“It will be no help to tell them to quote ‘this or that section of the law’ but at least set up a system where number plates and ID tags (of law enforcers) can be recognised,”said Xoliswa Jwili, a law graduate and co-ordinator of the programme for final-year law students.

“When processing a report they cannot then discredit them for lack of evidence. So it can have weight.”

She said homeless people typically woke up to raids by police - either SAPS or metro - and private security firms late at night or early in the morning when people were not around to see them.

She said they spoke of how the forces told them they were “cleaning up Durban” and bandied about the word “nuisance” when telling homeless people why they were acting against them.

“Currently we are filing that to the Human Rights Council. What is a nuisance?

“It’s vague. So many unconstitutional things are being done to the homeless,” said Jwili.

She also said the project had picked up patterns in raids against the homeless.

They often happen on days after they have received donations, such as on Mandela Day. Along with meagre possessions, documents get taken, she said.

“Matric certificates and ID documents are taken away and loaded into vans and trucks.”

She added that since the implementation of the project, the severity of incidents had reduced with more homeless people being empowered.

Bongani Madida, a homeless member of the eThekwini Task Team created by the initiative, said of many security officers: “They say they are enforcing the by-laws; but nowhere in the by-laws does it say you can beat people up! We hope dialogue will bring improvements. In the meantime, we continue to monitor the actions of the police.”

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