Homeless ‘abducted’ ahead of travel indaba

According to eyewitnesses, a convoy of metro police vehicles and officers, stationed on the promenade, allegedly accosted the homeless and downtrodden people, who were then arrested and forcibly taken away in a large truck with grilles

According to eyewitnesses, a convoy of metro police vehicles and officers, stationed on the promenade, allegedly accosted the homeless and downtrodden people, who were then arrested and forcibly taken away in a large truck with grilles

Published May 27, 2024


DURBAN’S homeless were allegedly taken against their will from the Durban beachfront and detained by metro police ahead of Africa’s Travel Indaba, which took place from May 13 to 16, at the International Convention Centre.

Director of the Denis Hurley Centre, Dr Raymond Perrier, said some of the homeless people who had evaded arrest soon after, recounted their ordeal allegedly at the hands of metro police officers.

He said in addition, they had received eyewitness accounts of homeless people being removed in police vehicles.

“According to eyewitnesses, a convoy of metro police vehicles and officers, stationed on the promenade, allegedly accosted the homeless and downtrodden people, who were then arrested and forcibly taken away in a large truck with grilles.

“When the metro police officers were questioned by eyewitnesses about the reasons for their action, they claimed the homeless were being taken away to an undisclosed place to be interviewed to determine if they were foreign nationals,” said Perrier.

He has since written to the eThekwini city manager, Musa Mbele, and Metro Police Commissioner Sibonelo Mchunu.

“We are gravely concerned by these events and request clarification on, among others, where were the homeless people taken? On what legal grounds were these individuals detained, abducted and allegedly interviewed? What laws and policy documents permit such actions to be taken by the metro police? And were any of these persons charged with having committed an offence or offences?”

He questioned that if detained, were the homeless people given an opportunity to seek legal advice; if charged with offences, have they appeared in court to apply for bail; or have they been released and if so, where and when.

Perrier said the homeless being detained and “abducted” often “happened in the background” when major events were being hosted in the city.

“When there are big events, they do these clean-ups,” he claimed.

Perrier said in his letter that he expected a detailed response by noon on Monday. By Tuesday morning, he said he had not received an acknowledgement of receipt nor a response.

Homeless being “secreted away illegally”

An eyewitness, a senior Durban advocate who was jogging along the Golden Mile last Monday and Wednesday, believed the homeless were being “secreted away illegally” ahead of the indaba.

“It is a recurring theme before every major public event and when major conferences are held in Durban. It is extremely concerning that the authorities continue in this vein unabated and with impunity,” said the advocate.

He also questioned the alleged hostile attitude by the law enforcement officers, allegedly who tried to intimidate him when he informed them that he was a lawyer and asked them what they were doing.

“They were violating the homeless’ rights as they did not have a warrant of arrest.”

The advocate said he read an article in the press soon after last Monday’s alleged incident that an entourage from the city, including the mayor, city manager and other officials from the indaba, went on a walkabout on the promenade with delegates.

“My concern is that we do not know where the city officials dumped the homeless after abducting them.”

The advocate said everyone, including the homeless, have fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

“These are the right to equality, human dignity, freedom and security of the person, privacy, freedom of association, freedom of movement and residence.

“Furthermore, every arrested person has Constitutional rights in terms of section 35 of the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act. If the eThekwini Municipality had embarked on a massive campaign to rid the inner city and beaches of homeless people during major events, it means they are relying upon bylaws and laws that are clothing them with the authority to indiscriminately target groups of people of their choice – in this case, the homeless.

“They must identify the policies and laws that they are relying upon to justify their actions. Today it is the homeless, tomorrow it will be another group of people that are targeted and abducted.”

The advocate said he reported the incidents to the Denis Hurley Centre.


Colonel Boysie Zungu, spokesperson for the Durban metro police, said they had received a number of complaints from the public about being robbed by homeless people in the CBD.

“People’s cell phones, handbags and wigs are snatched whilst walking. They also robbed people on the promenade,” he added.

He said people who left their belongings on the beach while swimming had also been robbed.

“People walking or running on the promenade are robbed of their belongings too. We had a meeting as law enforcement agents and planned a clean-up operation and enforcement of city by-laws.

“In the last four weeks we have arrested and detained more than 40 homeless people. An ID test was conducted to find out if they are wanted criminals and 13 of them were found to be undocumented foreigners,” Zungu said.

Those who were not charged were released from Durban Central SAPS.

Zungu said sleeping on the streets and beaches was a violation of by-laws.

“We will continue with this kind of operation until the crime rate reduces in Durban. We have more than 500 people sleeping on the street, and sleeping on the street and the beach is a violation of the City by-laws,” Zungu added.

Gugu Sisilana, the spokesperson for eThekwini Municipality, said law enforcement agents were conducting extensive operations and enforcement of by-laws.

“The city had received complaints from the public regarding incidents of robbery committed by homeless people. In an effort to address these concerns, the city held a meeting with law enforcement agents and planned an extensive clean-up operation and enforcement of city by-laws.”

She said the city was committed to continuing these law enforcement operations issues pertaining to safety and security, requiring an integrated approach from all sectors of society.

“Government, business, civil society, including community policing forums and residents, need to work together to address criminal activities and instability to ensure a safe society and thriving economy. We will never win the war against crime if community members continue to protect criminals,” Sisilana added.

Evading arrest

Some of the homeless people who said they managed to evade arrest were Joshua Govender, Jerusha Moonsamy and Zubeida Henricks.

Govender, 33, said he and several other homeless people were harassed last week by metro police between Ushaka beach and Addington Hospital.

“Many of us ran away before they could grab us, but our bags and blankets were taken.”

He said his bag contained his identity document, a few T-shirts and pants. Govender, who fishes to pay for his accommodation at shelters, said his fishing rod and reels were taken.

He said they were left with no hope or dignity as the “clean-up” of people living on the streets was becoming regular.

Moonsamy, 40, said she was terrified and “ran for my life” when she saw police vehicles approach.

“My bag was taken. I have no ID again. This is the third time this has happened. I do not understand how they are allowed to hit and hurt us. We are not involved in crimes. We just have no homes to go to. We sleep on the floor on a blanket. Those blankets we sleep on are taken and thrown away. It is all we have.”

Henricks, 57, said: “When metro police arrived, they began by grabbing people and whatever belongings or blankets they could find and throwing it into the police van. It was inhumane the way they treated us.

“I am a South African citizen. I am even registered to vote. But what am I voting for? Nobody wants to employ a 57-year-old woman. I am fit and healthy but I cannot get a job or qualify for a Sassa grant. I have no choice but to make my bed in the streets.”