Woonga users in a park Durban "Oslo City"

Durban - The eThekwini Municipality has conceded that its strategy of rounding up beggars and vagrants and dumping them outside the city is not working.

This week, city officials with metro police, SAPS and health officials will meet to review this strategy, with the aim of coming up with a better way of dealing with the city’s vagrants - many of whom are battling addiction to cheap, low grade heroin known as whoonga.

It comes amid swelling anger by social activists who have called the city’s treatment of the vagrants a “gross human and democratic rights abuses”.

Over the past month, the metro police have clamped down on vagrant and beggars in the city, rounding them up only to drive them to areas like eManzimtoti, Hammarsdale, Mpumalanga township and eMdloti, where they are dumped.

Some, however, have been taken to areas where they claim they are from and have been left near the local police station and told to return to their family homes.

But with families that don’t want them, many return to the city within hours.

Nomusa Shembe, senior manger of the city’s Safer Cities initiative that aims to halt the crime and grime in the inner city, said that the city was working on new plans to deal with the vagrants.

A meeting will be held on Friday by the city to review its current strategy.

Shembe admitted that they erred by dumping vagrants without handing them over to a relative or someone who would care for them.

“We are now coming up with a plan that they must be handed over to somebody or an organisation instead of just dropping them off. We have already established local drug action committees for this and they will be taken there to be assessed before they are taken home.

“The problem we face is that these people are not compelled to take up the care we offer. Those that don’t want to be helped will just be left in the areas they come from. It is a human rights issue and there is nothing we can do, so we will only be helping those who want to be helped,” Shembe said.

She said those who returned to the city would continue to be removed by metro police because the city was serious about keeping it grime-free.

Explaining the problem they faced, Shembe said that of the 25 whoonga addicts who volunteered for the city’s drug rehabilitation programmer last year, only six completed the programme. The others checked themselves out.

Last month the city booked 18 into drug rehabilitation and so far seven had left.

“All of this will form part of the review. We are going to sit down with all of the stakeholders to see what we have been doing and (what) we can do better,” she said.

Vanessa Burger called the removal of vagrants from the inner city “gross human and democratic rights abuses”.

She said the city’s plan of rounding up vagrants and dumping them only shifted the problem temporarily.

“But they are back within hours. It seems as if the city does not have a concrete plan in place for these people. In fact, we have seen a hardening of attitudes against them,” she said.

Burger said the city needed to come up with a bold plan to help those addicted to whoonga by offering them treatment such as Naltrexone implants which had been used successfully in the US and Canada to wean addicts off alcohol and drugs without the harsh side-effects of going cold turkey.

“It may cost more but it can be used as an out patient treatment and will be far cheaper in the long term of them having to continually deal with these people’s drug dependency. There is 97 percent relapse rate for people on heroin who go through the state’s rehab programme. It is time for us to look at other methods,” she said.

Heather Rorick, chairwoman of the Bulwer Safety Forum, whose community is at the coalface of the city’s vagrant problem, said they were pleased with the city's clampdown and encouraged the metro police to do more.

“The vagrants are everywhere, one on every corner in Glenwood. Cars are having to swerve to avoid hitting them and some of them have been responsible for muggings. This is a social issue and the city needs to come up with ways to solve it. We do however support the metro police in removing them and stopping the begging.”

Ben Madokwe, chairman of the Umbilo Community Police Forum said he would be attending the city’s review on Friday and hoped it would beneficial to the community and its concerns about vagrants.

“Yes they have got rid of the big whoonga park they had but the problem is still there. These people have now split up into smaller groups and are spread all over Durban. We need to come up with a better plan.”

Daily News