Msunduzi Municipality is considering ways to address the challenges facing businesses in the CBD, including a possibility of moving vagrants to a rehabilitation facility.
The municipality confirmed that it is engaging with various government departments to solve the problems that have recently forced major businesses to close shop.
The City said it had set up a task team that has for the past two months been involved in a CBD clean-up operation, which could include vagrants being taken to a rehabilitation facility.
The Witness has reported on CBD business owners complaining of crime, vagrants and filth.
City spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha said the City has had a number of talks with the departments of Health, Social Development and Community Safety to move vagrants to a rehab facility.
“The municipality is currently in discussion with the a number of rehab facilities with regards to assisting the problem. The municipality is also engaging the Office of the Premier with regards to a proposal for a rehabilitation centre/youth centre.”
Mafumbatha said Mayor Themba Njilo was told by MEC for Social Development Weziwe Thusi this month that Social Development could assist with this challenge.
“The municipality will continue to facilitate discussions and find solutions around this challenge,” Mafumbatha said.
The business fraternity, meanwhile, told The Witness that Pietermaritzburg’s central economic hub will die a slow, painful death if their concerns are not addressed soon.
Business owners said the long-term effect will be a stifling of future investment in the CBD and see customers stop coming to the area.
Businesses collectively feared they may eventually be left with no choice but to shut up shop should the situation continue to worsen.
The owner of a fabric shop on Church Street said in recent times he had found numerous vagrants “passed out” around his shop when he goes to open it in the morning.
“The customers are scared to come here because the car guards are also those whoonga boys. The first thing they do is ask for money when customers park.”
He feared the next generation of shop owners would not want to open businesses in the CBD.
The owner of a shoe shop at the corner of Church and Retief streets, for more than 30 years, said: “For different reasons I am stuck here, but if I had the option I would leave.”
A staffer at a branch of a chain clothing store in the CBD said the issue of staff being mugged outside the shop had become so serious that they sometimes get security guards to escort staff members when they leave work.
She added: “Customers phone us to see whether we have certain items, and when we tell them where we’re based, they say they won’t come here.
“Lots of shops around us have closed, and we hope it doesn’t come to that for us.”
General manager of Msunduzi Municipality’s Safe City initiative Lucas Holtzhausen said businesses that open very early or close very late are particularly susceptible to robberies.
“Robbers are opportunists and they operate all over town. They normally strike when the victim least expects it.”
Holtzhausen added that theft from vehicles was also common in the CBD.
He advised the public to exercise caution when in the area.
Police spokesperson Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese advised businesses to report any suspicious customers to police.
“We must always have a conversation about crime because criminals get innovative and try to be a step ahead,” Ngobese said.
This month The Witness reported that the City had allegedly not delivered on numerous promises its officials made to business owners.