Durban - Pandemonium broke out during a city clean-up operation under the bridges near Albert Park and “Whoonga Park” on Wednesday, as scores of vagrants ran away from the police.

Metro police were accused of torching the vagrants’ mattresses and other meagre possessions.

“They came out of nowhere and started kicking our things around and burnt them,” said one, who identified himself only as Sbusiso. “We were scared and just ran onto the road because (we) didn’t know what was happening.”

The SAPS and metro police denied knowledge of the incident, but a spokeswoman for the eThekwini Municipality, Tozi Mthethwa, said the operation was part of mayor James Nxumalo’s “Clean My City” programme.

“Our teams embark on clean-ups in different parts of the municipality. The clean-ups entail dealing with all aspects which compromise the state of cleanliness, the quality of life for residents, business operations, illegal dumping, littering and bylaw infringements,” she said.

Durban photographer, Dawn Rouse, said she was driving from Berea, down Margaret Mncadi Avenue (previously Victoria Embankment), at 1.15pm when she saw groups of people crossing the road, from near the canal to Albert Park.

Her curiosity piqued, she stopped and took out her camera.

“I heard gunshots being fired by SAPS members and saw people fleeing the area,” she said, adding she was told to leave for her own safety.

Rouse said motorists had to swerve to avoid hitting people who were pouring onto the road.

A security guard with the city’s Urban Management Zone Enforcement, who declined to be named, told the Daily News he saw metro police setting fire to the vagrants’ possessions.

“I think they don’t want them sleeping here because a lot of criminal activity takes place in the vicinity,” he said.

Both metro police spokesman, Eugene Msomi, and SAPS spokesman, Captain Zwane Thulani, denied knowledge of the incident.

Last month eThekwini officials visited the area and promised to address issues such as drug dealing. Nxumalo had also announced city plans to develop a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts.

Daily News