Gangsters Operating in Durban (08 Dec 2004) PDF Print E-mail

 

Dear Editor

Durban is advertised as South Africa ’s favourite tourist destination “where the fun never stops”. When I was invited to be a speaker at a conference in Durban , I had an opportunity to experience first hand some of that fun. On the only night that I was in Durban , during a one hour and a half walk that I took along Durban ’s Golden Mile beachfront, I was accosted and threatened by two separate gangs. 

After speaking at the Conference at 10:30PM before retiring to bed, I changed out of my suit and into running shorts, T-shirt and sandals. I was keen to get some fresh air and exercise. 

Only a block from the hotel where the conference was being held, I noticed a group of suspicious individuals lurking by a street corner. I was crossing the road and heading straight towards them, as I noticed them manoeuvring to encircle me. 

As I stepped onto the curb one large Nigerian stepped in front of me blocking my way and casually waving a gun announced: “I’m robbing you!” 

His smirk quickly disappeared as I drew my 9mm and responded: “No you’re not!” The four men disappeared fast. 
I continued on my walk disturbed by the litter, graffiti, and general urban decay evident in what use to be known as Durban ’s Golden Mile. Large numbers of street vendors, beach combers, beggers, loiterers, vagrants and street people blocked my path on the main parade – which use to be one of Durban ’s great tourist attractions. The expensive, high-rise hotels seemed besieged by vagrants, street people and prostitutes. Crime and grime most certainly go together I thought, as I was propositioned by at least sixteen prostitutes. 

Just a few blocks away from where I had first been accosted, I became aware that I was being followed by a different gang. As I was walking briskly, it was evident that they had ill intentions – as they were actually gaining on me. I crossed the road, and noted that they crossed the road after me. They were even closer when I crossed the road again, and all three of them re-crossed the road. A third time I crossed the road and noted that they were even closer on my tail. I turned around to see two of the men, knives in hand, right behind me. As I drew my gun and aimed at them they fled without a word. 

Incredulous that two separate gangs had attempted to target me for a mugging in less that fifteen minutes, I continued my walk with vigilance. I wondered how it was that Durban could afford to have invested so many hundred of millions of Rand into catering for and attracting tourists, yet have allowed litter, graffiti, crime and grime, pimps and prostitutes, pickpockets, drug dealers, vagrants and gangs to have invaded and taken over such a prime tourist destination. Any foreign tourist foolish enough to subject themselves to the rundown hotels and have to run the gauntlet of beggars and thieves to get to the much published Durban beachfront are unlikely to ever return again, and word will soon spread that Durban is a tourist trap to avoid. 

I walked up and down some of the piers jutting out into the sea. On just one pier, I counted over fifty informal street vendors and vagrants sleeping on plastic bags and newspapers. These piers had been marvellously constructed, equipped with attractive lampposts and beautiful benches for the tourists, but every bench was occupied by some sleeping street person. Some beach combers, evidently high on something, wandered aimlessly around, eyes glazed over. A large group of informal street vendors were stripped naked and showering under the open beach showers provided for tourists. The amount of rubbish, litter and graffiti around these tourist destinations was staggering. 

Finally, after walking for about an hour, I saw some policemen, in fact I saw a lot of them. Five police vehicles, all four-wheel drive land cruisers, and one police armoured car were all congregated outside the main beachfront swimming pool. Over 26 policemen, many wearing bulletproof vests, and tactical assault gear, were standing around drinking Coca-Cola’s and eating icecreams. At first I wondered if something had happened or if they were expecting a riot to break out at this particular location, but further enquiry revealed that they were all just, coincidentally, simultaneously, taking a break from patrolling. As I had not noticed any of them on the rest of my hour and a half-long walk it seemed poor timing. If their purpose was to make Durban ’s beachfront safe for tourists, they were evidently not being very effective.

I’m sure should any officials be questioned about what the Durban municipality or provincial authority are doing to combat crime and attract tourists, they could quote many impressive statistics as to the vast amounts of money poured into various projects, and the numbers of police allocated for patrolling, etc. However, anyone who wants to take a walk on the ground will observe that Durban is committing economic suicide. By tolerating such crime and grime, they are chasing away investors, ratepayers and tourists. 

The prostitutes are patrolling the streets of Durban more effectively than the police. There are far more signs of graffiti and litter than of effective government and law and order in Durban . While Durban has succeeded in attracting a vast number of vagrants, street vendors, beggars, gangsters and drug dealers, it is probably not going to continue to attract an equally large number of foreign tourists. 

And for those who do choose to make Durban their next tourist destination, I pray that they will be vigilant and quick on the draw. 

Dr. Peter Hammond 
Frontline Fellowship
P O Box 74
Newlands, 7725
Cape Town
South Africa
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Website: www.frontline.org.za

 
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