Police residences should be free from illegal activity. After all, it’s here where our men and women in blue – the law enforcement officers whose primary duty is to the protect people and property – live.
But this is not the case in Durban, where police blocks of flats – which accommodate thousands of officers and their families – have become havens of illegal activities. Squatters have taken over, and are making a roaring trade by selling drugs and counterfeit goods right under the noses of our police officers.
The situation is so out of control that Durban cops had to raid their own buildings at the weekend.
During the operations – on Friday night at the Natalia building in the CBD, and at about 2am on Monday at Excelsior Court in Berea – the cops found:
• A 250g stash of heroin worth about R400,000;
• 84 counterfeit DVDs; and
• More than 100 people, including police officers who should not have been there, occupying the buildings illegally.
The Public Order Police, K9 Unit, Special Task Force and the Tactical Response Team conducted the raids on the male and female single quarters as well as the married quarters.
Those who did not belong there, and had no valid explanation for being there, were charged with trespassing and slapped with a R300 fine.
Police also opened two dockets of corruption after they established that some people were effectively sub-letting the rooms.
The raids were the brainchild of the new acting provincial police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, who was recently appointed by Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Mkwanazi decided a clean-up operation at their own properties was needed before they could hit other illegally occupied or hijacked buildings in the city.
“Before we, as the South African Police Service, can clean up illegally occupied buildings in our communities we must first start with our very own buildings. It has become apparent over some time that residences which were built to house our police officers have been illegally accommodating people who do not work for the South African Police Service,” said Mkhwanazi.
“This has resulted in these buildings being in a state of dilapidation and not fit for human habitation. The fact that people are on our police premises illegally also poses a risk to the police officers that work from these places.”
He also lamented the state of deterioration of police barracks in Durban, which are not only crumbling but have also been described as death traps.
A visit by Times Select to Excelsior Court, on Peter Mokaba Road in Berea, showed it was in the same condition as during a previous visit more than five years ago. In fact, it looked like it was getting worse.
The walls in the towering red-bricked building are covered in green algae stains. Several disused garages, with broken doors, are being used for rubbish and broken alcohol bottles.
A female police officer, who did not want to be named, said large parts of the building had been hijacked by vagrants, and when she and other police officers moved in two years ago they had to chase some of them out.
“We have had to fix our rooms ourselves. The conditions are still the same,” she said.
At the Somtsewu and Laetisia residences on Stalwart Simelane Street in the centre of the town, the conditions are equally bad.
A Sunday Times investigation six years ago revealed leaking toilets and electric wires hanging from walls, rusty old air conditioners hanging from burglar bars, and gaping holes in the ceilings.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said funds were allocated by the Department of Public Works to renovate the police accommodation, but residents had refused to move out, resulting in the SAPS turning to the courts and serving eviction orders on those who refused to leave.
“It appears that as the previous occupants moved out unauthorised persons have sneaked in and are trespassing on police premises. We are dealing with this as it poses a threat to police officers. It is hoped that once all the occupants of these dilapidated buildings move out the Department of Public Works will be in a position to carry out the extensive renovations required,” he said.