Picture: African News Agency(ANA) Archives
Durban - The growing number of homeless people, especially teenagers, living in the Pietermaritzburg city centre has raised concerns among business owners, who say they are driving away customers.

A few years ago, the city demolished the Ematsheni beer hall, on the edge of the city centre, where the homeless used to sleep.

At the time it was demolished, the city said the beer hall had become a den for criminals who robbed people in the streets and disappeared inside the beer hall.

After it was demolished the homeless were forced to move into the city centre itself.

A business owner, who asked not to be named, said the issue was a serious problem.

“The homeless do not have access to water and sanitation, so they are dirty. They also harass customers. This is driving people out of the city centre - people prefer to go to malls where it is safe,” he said.

Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business chief executive Melanie Veness said: “The town is filthy and overrun with people living on the streets. Many of these young people are addicted to drugs. Having no access to public toilets, they urinate and defecate on the pavements outside business premises.

“Customers of various businesses have opted not to come into town any longer because of its filthy state and because they get intimidated on their way into the shops. This has resulted in the closure of several businesses.”

She said the situation was made more difficult by the fact that there were no drug rehabilitation facilities in Pietermaritzburg.

“The situation is untenable and I’m sad to say that it is costing our economy dearly.

“The chamber is (and always has been) willing to play an active role in finding solutions to our many challenges. We have been engaging with the city regularly and with the provincial leadership, who have shown a willingness to assist with the problem,” said Veness.

Municipal spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the mayor had recently launched a clean-up campaign.

“The municipality is also working on tightening enforcement in the city. The issue of homeless people requires an integrated approach that involves a number of stakeholders with whom the municipality is engaging, to come up with a sustainable plan.”

The Mercury