Hundreds of whoonga addicts were living on a piece of open ground opposite the Durban University of Technology. City officials launched a clean-up initiative that saw addicts and vagrants removed from an Umbilo park. File picture: Geoff Brink

Kevin Dunkley and Cheryl Johnson have written an open letter to EThekwini mayor, councillor James Nxumalo.

Durban - We are writing an open letter to you because we believe that Durban is rapidly moving to the edge of a precipice. We also write to you because we believe that you are a decent and sincere man.

Our concern is that the whoonga wars have started and you, the city council and your officials, seem oblivious to the severity of the problem. We said we wanted to work with the city, but that is proving impossible because of arrogance and ineptitude on behalf of some officials.

A lot of publicity was given to your visit to Whoonga Park and the establishment of a task team. Unless they are operating undercover, it appears nothing is happening.

At the time of your visit, metro police spokesman, S’bonela Mchunu, was quoted as saying the park was no longer a “law enforcement issue”. Sir, do you agree with him?

Here are 500 people living on the railway tracks who are taking the most addictive drug you can find and this is not a law enforcement issue?

And do you really believe that these addicts stay in the “park” all day and night? No, they come out of there and commit crimes to feed their habit. Just this week, DUT students were saying they were scared to go to lectures because of whoonga muggings. In the past six months we have seen a dramatic increase in aggression by traffic light beggars and unauthorised car guards. People are being threatened at traffic lights and have their cars banged by people.

A member of our committee was threatened with death for ignoring such a person. Women driving alone are being targeted by these individuals.

Where do these vagrants go to the toilet? On the street, that is where. How would you or your council like to pick your way through human excrement outside City Hall, or worse, outside your homes? This is not an exaggeration, we have the photos to prove it. It looks like you have lost control over the metro police force. Why are they not enforcing the serial breaking of the by-laws? All this smacks of total arrogance and a total lack of empathy with your citizens who contribute millions in rates alone.

And it’s not as though we don’t have compassion for the addicts. Most of our followers express genuine sympathy for their plight, but we can no longer afford to ignore the reality, the threat to life and property is too urgent. It is the responsibility of the government to take charge of the vulnerable as well as those presenting a danger to society. It is also the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.

You find it acceptable that you and any local politician who has received threats should enjoy the luxury of security that is costing us millions. Yet the rest of us must live in an environment where the most basic activities can lead to death, rape, serious injury and even mutilation. A homeless woman, Wendy, was murdered, raped and mutilated on a grassy patch of ground on the Berea. There is no part of that grassy patch that is more than 30m from two busy roads. How does this happen?

A resident of Glenwood who went out to fetch her pets which escaped from her property, was set upon, brutally raped and mutilated. A man walking his dog on a busy road in Westville was stabbed to death. If these incidents happened in New York, a city at least five times bigger than Durban, then the mayor would be in the media showing his disgust and pledging action.

But here there is a deafening silence and we are treated with contempt by the use of spokespeople to communicate with us. What will it take to get action? Would it take the murder or rape of one of your executives to wake everybody up? Heaven forbid that should happen, but that is the risk your citizens face every day.

You and your city manager are both on record as declaring that you want to make Durban a world-class city. We talk about bidding for the Olympics.

We are loyal Durbanites and South Africans and are known as positive people that will defend their city and the country we love. We need action. People are getting angry, very angry.

We need inspired leadership and we do not have that. Who will lead us out of the abyss in which we find ourselves?

We keep hearing from officials and politicians who are quick to tell us this or that problem is not within their sphere of control.

Service delivery is not just about providing electricity, water, roads etc, it encompasses all services, and also includes our safety.

We are afraid that eThekwini is failing us. You have the burden of that leadership and it is time for you to stand together with us, your constituents, and take action.

Only then can we even consider the goal of Durban becoming a world-class city.

* Kevin Dunkley and Cheryl Johnson are with the Save Our Berea Working Committee.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Mercury