EThekwini Municipality’s Acting Head of Communications Mandla Nsele said that being a vagrant is an offence in terms of the existing by-laws and that vagrancy is dealt with through the daily Nuisances and Behaviour in Public Places By-law enforcement operations. “During these operations the vagrants are removed along with their belongings. Metro Police, in conjunction with Durban Solid Waste also remove tons of old blankets and cardboard, used by vagrants to sleep. These operations are conducted mostly in the evenings,” said Nsele.
Nsele added that people arrested for vagrancy are taken to a police station and given a warning since they cannot be fined when they do not have money or a fixed abode. “During the by-law enforcement operations, the city also provides social assistance to vagrants,” he said.
Speaking at a crime meeting held at the Durban City Hall recently Deputy Head of Metro Police, Steve Middleton said: “We get thousands of calls about vagrants, there is no by law for vagrancy, no law specifically. Therefore policing will implement bylaw enforcement,” he said. Barry Porter Supervisor at Sanzala, a block of flats that overlooks the Umgeni Road cemetery said: “The cemetery is basically inhabited by about ten vagrants, there are no gates there so its a free for all. We are at risk because there is nothing stopping them from jumping into our property,” he said.Ward 31 Councillor, Chris Pappas said that South Africa is in the grip of a “national disaster” in the form of unemployment. “The social economic problems we face are the biggest contributing factor to vagrancy, and homelessness. We need to improve the economy and provide a better safety net for those who are affected by unfortunate life circumstances.”
Cllr Pappas added that residents can contact metro police to report offences against bylaws such as urinating in public which can be enforced by the police. Arrests, however are ineffective according to Proportional Representative Councillor for Ward 24 and 92, Caelee Laing who said that residents who support vagrants compound the problem.
“Police arrest vagrants and then they come back because it’s lucrative. People need to stop giving money. It’s a huge socio economic problem that government needs to address, it doesn’t fall under the work of a ward councillor,” said Laing.
Cllr Pappas echoed this view.”I would encourage residents not to give people cash handouts but rather clothes or food. However a better response to our poor and homeless is to donate to NGOs,” said Cllr Pappas. Nsele said that hundreds of homeless people have requested assistance from the municipality and been referred to the Dennis Hurley Centre which offers meals and abolition facilities but not shelter. “The city has engaged two non-government organisations such as ICARE and AGAPE to provide holistic interventions to street children, which includes the removal of children from the street,” added Nsele. Residents are urged to contact a local NGO to assist vagrants. To contact the Dennis Hurley Centre which offers meals to vagrants, call 031 301 2240.