A peculiar park where even cops fear to tread

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October 9, 2012

Durban has a peculiar park of sorts where hundreds of down-and-out job seekers, muggers, beggars, school drop-outs and all manner of destitute folk with fiery glazed stares gather for a toke everyday. It’s not a park in the official sense, and its name does not arise from the city’s naming policy, old or new. It’s called Whoonga Park and it has become part of our urban landscape.

First published in the Sunday Tribune.

To get to Whoonga Park, take a drive – or a walk if you are feeling brave – to the lower end of Che Guevera St toward the M4 onramp to the South Coast and Maydon Wharf. As you approach the onramp, you will notice crowds gathered in circles on the patch of land alongside the railway line in Khuzimpi Shezi Rd (formerly Williams Rd). Here, even on rainy days, whoonga drugging happens on a mass scale.

At the nearby Durban University of Technology (DUT) city campus, third-year students remember this patch of public land as a clean, safe manicured grassy field as still depicted on Google earth. Second-years remember avoiding the place at night. Now students steer clear 24-7. They reckon it is risky to walk past in daylight, and downright foolish to do so when carrying a bag, cell phone, or worse – laptop and camera.

More disturbing is that even some policemen – both Metro and SAPS – openly admit that they dare not venture into Whoonga Park unless backed up by a heavily armed contingent during an organised, clean up operation.

“It’s dangerous. I won’t pretend to be hero,” said one Metro cop who did not want his name mentioned. So we will call him Danny.

Danny said muggers, bag snatchers, cell phone takers and clothing thieves who preyed upon people in the Albert Park, lower Berea, and Davenport areas often fled straight to Whoonga Park to trade or stash stolen goods, seemingly beyond the reach of law.

Whoonga – a poor man’s heroin – is said to give users a sense of euphoria, but not in the laid back sense of word. It apparently leads to excessive, mindless violence.

Recently – on Saturday September 22 – the crowded spot was the scene of a pitched street battle.

“Homeless resist removal bid,” read the headlines in the Sunday Tribune. Metro Police spokesman, Eugene Msomi told the newspaper that they had received a directive to remove a large group of illegal foreign and homeless people alongside the railway line in Khuzimpi Shezi Street opposite DUT city campus.

The operation degenerated into chaos. “The crowd resisted. One foreigner (never named) was shot and wounded by railway guards. Four other squatters were injured,” said Msomi.

As part of an investigative journalism training assignment, a team of DUT students were assigned to track down and interview the injured folk, including the gun-shot wounded foreigner pictured in the press with no name given.

They never got to meet him, but they did find out more about what is happening under the very noses of authorities at this place now called Whoonga Park.

Go back to main page: Whoonga Park

 

The Whoonga Park expose formed part of Roving Reporters’ 2012 investigative journalism training project supported by the Taco Kuiper Trust, the Open Society Foundation and the Durban University of Technology.

The students who conducted this investigation under supervision of Roving Reporters director, Fred Kockott, were Nosipho Mngoma, Anathi Teyise and Ndabe Mthembu.