Durban - It's well after dark in Durban, and the hot and sweaty night is punctured by a soft drizzle falling over the city. The soft glow of the nearby street lights catches flitting shadows on the road below.
“Just wait, you’ll see the ladies now. Even on a night like this, even with the rain, you’ll get the guys coming, you’ll see them driving round the corner slowly, checking which one of the girls they want,” says Morningside ward councillor Martin Meyer.
While most residents have already retreated to their beds for the night, Meyer, together with about a dozen other residents, has taken to the streets of Morningside.
Local ward councillor Martin Meyer organised the "prostitution patrol". Picture: Sbonelo Ngcobo
Donning bright reflective vests the group, made up largely of male residents, have decided it’s time to “take back the streets”.
They have formed a street patrol to try to “deter or hinder” prostitution activities in the area, which, they all agree, are out of control.
“We are not vigilantes, we are not physically chasing anyone away, we are not accusing anyone of being a prostitute. We are simply going to be visible on our streets, and this will hopefully hinder these types of activities happening in our area,” says Meyer.
The Independent on Saturday joins the group as they set out on the first of what they hope will become regular street patrols. They set out on a route that takes in most of the hotspots in the area.
Using the street lights and LED torches, the group walk from Bornick Road, down Lilian Ngoyi (Windermere) Road, circle around the Sutton Park swimming pool area, and up Kittymere Lane.
For Meyer, getting calls at 2am is nothing unusual.
“I get calls at all times, often in the early hours, from residents complaining there are certain activities going on right outside their kitchen windows. There is an elderly couple whose house is at the beginning of a road well known as a hotspot where prostitutes solicit business, and the residents are old and can't get much sleep,” he says.
Percival Gumede, who’s lived on Lilian Ngoyi Road for eight years, calls the situation with the prostitutes “ridiculous”.
The team, made up of about a dozen members, take to the streets in order to "hinder or deter" prostitution activities. Picture: Sbonelo Ngcobo
“It’s like a cancer that’s eating at our society, right in the suburbs. When we are driving or walking around our own neighbourhood, you see the ladies. Even kids can see what is happening. Our vision as residents is to see our neighbourhood be a good place for a family to live. We don’t want this type of activity on our streets,” says Gumede.
Resident Lionel Sewell, who has lived in Bornick Road for 15 years, says: “We’ve never had this problem before. Over the past four years it's escalated and there is a lot of activity on the roads in and around Morningside. I am on the road every day and I see these girls on the side of the road.
"Sometimes they've even lifted their skirts or tops, it is not acceptable. I want to be part of this patrol so that we take back our community.”
The group also knock on the doors of a few lodges in the area, and are told that the rate is R100 for an hour, and “girls” can be supplied.
Some of the women standing on the street corners run or duck away quickly when they see the group come walking past.
Phil Tribe, also from Bornick Road, says he’s been in the area all his life, "58 years to be exact", and the days of riding a bicycle on the street are long gone.
“There have been such drastic changes to the Morningside area; you can't do that any more. You can't walk down the road without seeing a prostitute. It’s happening blatantly, in front of our eyes.
“In the last three years it’s gone out of control and it’s made worse by these so-called lodges that have popped up all over the area. It’s becoming a norm now, and some residents may be accepting of it, but we want to see change in our area,” says Tribe.
He says he worries about property values, and is not certain whether to invest more into upgrading his home.
“I’m sick and tired of this situation now, it needs to change,” he says.
Ariff Saib, who recently moved into the area, joined the patrol because he wanted to see an end to the "unsavoury activities".
“We want the riff-raff out of the area. I have a son and I don’t want him to have to witness this type of activity,” he says.
Another resident, who does not want to be named, says over the past few years prostitutes have taken up almost every street corner.
A woman standing on the road quickly covers her face with her hand when she sees the community members approaching. Picture: Sbonelo Ngcobo
“The problem is that along with prostitution comes crime. We have never had cars and houses being broken into before, but it’s becoming increasingly common now.
"There’s also fighting on the streets between the women, over territories. You can’t walk on the streets; ladies will flash you their wares as you drive by. There are lodges popping up everywhere. Some hotspots that we are aware of have condoms and bottles strewn on the road when you pass by in the early morning. Is this any way to live?” she asks.
Some of the measures residents and businesses are considering implementing are CCTV cameras and warning potential clients that the activities were being noted.
Meyer tells the group they will also claim back their streets by holding more street patrols, or by camping out at the street corners known for prostitution activities.
They will also check whether lodges have the proper business licences to operate.
“Our idea is to be visible to prostitutes and to businesses encouraging prostitution, and for potential clients to know that Morningside is watching: we are taking back our community,” he says.
Metro police Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad says the department has ongoing “undercover” operations to clamp down on prostitution.
“We cannot divulge details on what the operations entail. However, we are dealing with it. We encourage residents to report suspicious activities to us, but also urge residents to work via their local CPF structures, supported by law enforcement, in trying to deal with these issues,” he says.