Homeless resist removal bid
A directive issued to metro police officers on Saturday to remove a large group of illegal foreign and local homeless people from public ground alongside the railway line in Williams Road, Albert Park, dissolved into chaos when the crowd resisted.
What had been planned as an orderly exercise rapidly turned into a pitched battle during which any object at hand was hurled at police, who in turn used batons to bring the situation under control.
Durban businessman Louis Jacobs was driving past when he got caught in the mêlée.
“It was hair-raising and came out of the blue,” he said.
“One moment it was a regular Saturday morning scene, with commuters going about their errands; then suddenly there was a wave of panicked people, police cars pulling up with lights flashing, cars swerving all over the place and people risking getting knocked down as they scrambled to get away.
“Not a great way to start the weekend, I can tell you.”
When the Sunday Tribune arrived several minutes later, an angry crowd was still hurling insults at the police in various languages.
A patch of open ground was strewn with broken glass. Several badly injured people were being attended to by a metro policeman and woman.
“Yes, you take pictures, and show people the truth,” shouted an indigent woman who stood watching the bleeding protesters.
Two men and a woman suffered head injuries, allegedly inflicted by police batons.
One man lay on the pavement, his shirt drenched with blood from a deep wound on his forehead.
By now the crowd was re-grouping and appeared to be about 200-strong.
The younger men strode to the fore and began yelling provocatively at police, one teen urchin doing lewd pelvis thrusts to taunt the men in blue before dashing to safety behind an electricity substation.
The group was finally brought under control after a senior metro policeman, whose name was not provided to the Sunday Tribune, walked among the protesters, speaking in a controlled voice and calming frayed tempers.
The stretch of open ground is frequented by men and women, many of whom do not have residency permits. An officer said vulnerable youngsters reduced to living on the street often integrated with the group because it offered them some protection.
“Many of these people live on smash-and-grab and petty theft because they cannot get work in the formal sector without documentation,” said a police officer.
The tension was eased by a mishap that will take some explaining by the driver of a police van who left the vehicle unattended, seemingly without fully engaging the handbrake.
The van rolled into a flatbed police truck.
Metro police spokesman Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi said railway police had been moving vagrants off the tracks when violence erupted.
“One foreigner was shot and wounded by railway guards and four other squatters were injured in the confrontation.”