Durban - Ethekwini councillors have slammed traffic police for neglecting busy intersections with defective traffic lights at peak hours - leaving opportunists and beggars to direct the traffic.
But the metro police hit back, saying the department was suffering from severe staff shortages, and restrictions on overtime meant their hands were often tied in cases of load shedding or defective traffic lights.
The concerns were raised by KwaMashu and Ntuzuma ANC councillor Dumisani Mabizela during the municipality’s human settlements and infrastructure committee meeting on Tuesday.
Mabizela said roadworks on major roads were “greatly” appreciated as they would benefit the city in the long run, but they had become a burden to motorists.
“What really hurts is that we don’t see police directing traffic. Traffic is now being directed by whoonga addicts. It’s a serious matter, which the committee should seriously look at.”
He said a drive from the Durban CBD to KwaMashu took about two hours because of congestion caused by all the roadworks.
They include the upgrade of the N2/M41 Mount Edgecombe interchange north of Durban; the road deviation along Qashana Khuzwayo Road (Shepstone Road) at Escom Road and Blase Road in Pinetown as part of the Go!Durban construction; and the N2/Umgeni Road flyover.
“It is fine that the roads are being built, but the problem is with the drivers – they are impatient and intolerant,” he said.
“Traffic cops should be there working - that’s what they are paid to do. Drivers must not be directed by whoonga addicts. They control the traffic, but in the meanwhile they want to rob us.”
His concerns were echoed by committee chairman Nigel Gumede, of the ANC.
Gumede said the situation was “serious”.
“It’s happening almost all over Durban. It’s worse now that there is load shedding,” he said.
He told the committee he had seen “these whoonga boys fiddling with the traffic lights”.
“They know how to fiddle with them and then you will see them controlling traffic.”
The DA’s Berea councillor Jethro Lefevre pointed out that there was legislation preventing people other than police officers from directing traffic.
Metro police spokesman Sibonelo Mchunu said the department was aware of the complaints, but staff shortages and a clampdown on overtime were hindering their response.
“If the council can approve that we implement some measures, we’ll do that. We do make an effort, but these issues hinder us. We’ve just come from the festive season and we are cutting down on overtime. These are the issues that lead to some intersections not being manned. We try to prioritise the busiest intersections,” said Mchunu.
No civilian was allowed to direct traffic.
Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said the municipality was aware that vagrants were interfering with traffic lights.