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

Durban - There was confusion over the disappearance of whoonga addicts from King Dinuzulu (Botha) Park in Umbilo, Durban, on Tuesday, after a city clean-up initiative.

Residents of surrounding neighbourhoods were trying to determine whether the move was permanent, after the addicts had in recent months been accused of terrorising areas such as Umbilo, parts of Berea Road and lower Glenwood. Some criticised the municipality, accusing it of heavy-handed treatment during the removal of the addicts.

The city’s spokeswoman, Tozi Mthethwa, said eThekwini had cleared the park and surrounding areas occupied by vagrants over two days.

The chairwoman of the Bulwer Community Safety Forum, Heather Hayward Rorick, said that the municipality deserved credit “for trying” to clean up the park.

“Blaming each other is not going to go anywhere,” she said. “I just think that these guys will come back, but at least they are trying.”

But Umbilo activist Vanessa Burger said the clean-up was “nothing but a betrayal of human rights”.

“They were sjambokking those people,” she said, adding that police had confiscated her cellphone and deleted pictures she had taken.

“Displacing those people doesn’t help. They are creating a bigger problem and not addressing the main issue.”

Mthethwa said the municipality had shifted its focus to cleaning up Umbilo and Warwick Triangle. “About 400 vagrants were taken back to their homes in Umlazi, Umbumbulu, KwaMashu and Chatsworth,” she said.

Sydney Road and the Dalton hostel area were next on Tuesday. Near the hostel and in Congella Park, 52 shacks were demolished and about 90 vagrants removed in both areas.

Mthethwa said the city had engaged two NGOs, I Care and Agape, to provide “holistic interventions” to street children through the organisations’ rehabilitation programmes.

The municipality had identified a facility in Illovo that would be used for homeless people and drug addicts committed to rehabilitation.

“The facility requires renovations,” she said. “The costing for these is under way. On face value, the facility will be able to accommodate approximately 100 people at a time.”

Mthembiseni Thusi, the chairman of the Dalton hostel, said they disagreed with the municipality’s action.

“By spilling these people all over the city, you are spreading crime… We say they must be housed somewhere where they can be rehabilitated,” he said.

The Mercury