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Tourist haven Durban: 'A giant, feces-smeared squatter camp'

By Adriana Stuijt     Feb 15, 2009 in Environment
A photographer in Durban, South Africa is waging a lone battle against the city's claims that the Indian-ocean harbour city is a clean, well-run, safe tourist mecca. Oceanside resident Snowy Smith has 7,000 pics showing that it's a filthy slum instead.
Durban advertises itself as 'a sophisticated cosmopolitan city of over three million people, with fine dining, entertainment and shopping in scenic surroundings. If it's peace and sheer beauty you are after,' their tourism site exclaims, '... sail, swim, run, stroll along or relax on the sun-drenched beaches watching the world go by. Durban is the playground of the Zulu Kingdom...'
And they publish glowing reports about their sparkling-clean water quality and conveniently forget to mention the fact that most of their world-famous beaches recently lost their Blue Flag clean-beach certification... see
For our latest news report on Durban, also see
The tourist brochures still draw foreign visitors to Durban by the tens of thousands -- for indeed, what more could any tourists want? The brochures promise sun-drenched, sparkling-clean beaches and water, a tropical paradise, clean hotels and restaurants, friendly natives. But tourists go into culture shock upon their arrival: because they just parked themselves inside one huge impromptu squatter camp which turns out to be an armed muggers’ paradise, says Durban resident, photographer/lawyer Snowy Smith.
Snowy lives in an apartment overlooking the Durban embankment and beachfront - which are tourism hotspots. He prefers to describe it as 'one big, filthy, faeces-smeared squatter camp, a mugger's paradise.'
He tells me it's just as well that his more than 7,000 pictures, taken in his ongoing campaign with the city manager to get the place cleaned up over the past few years, can't convey the incredible stench of urine and human feces which also hangs over the place.
He tells me that 'the whole place also looks like a permanent prison now, with shuttered shops, heavy burglar bars, barbed wire, vagrants and incredible pollution everywhere."
His huge body of photographic evidence also is the exact opposite of the constant stream of reassuring press releases published by the city management, who claims the city's water and ocean are sparking clean
In Snowy Smith's determined campaign to get the place restored to its previously pristine state, he has already submitted sixteen emotional letters, accompanied by 7,000 powerful photographs to the Durban city manager, Dr Michael Ratcliffe - urging him to clean up this stinking mess and the terrifying crime rate. He's never had a reply. He's written nineteen letters this past year alone, admittedly often very angry missives, he says.
And my own enquiries merely elicited sending me a copy of their published press releases from their website, which all claim that the water is clean -- and that they are also sending in huge daily teams of cleaners each day to clean it all up again.
So Snowy started sending his pictures around to all his friends, and some have been published on a friend's in-your-face, no-holds-barred and rather terrifying rage-blog called "The Death of Durban'.
He is still waiting for a reply to his latest letter on January 18, 2009 and now is preparing his next one, he says. Snowy Smith is clearly determined to keep on trying.
Is he just a grumpy old guy who writes emotional letters which never get responded to? Or is Snowy Smith the one lonely voice crying in Durban’s increasingly polluted wilderness, one man with a deep love of nature who is pleading for the rescue of his beloved city?
Durban embankment: is one big filthy squatter camp
Following is his latest angry missive, fired off to the Durban city manager:
“I refer to my last fifteen letters to you, and which you have not replied to. Again, I must warn you that the entire Durban beachfront area is in a permanent state of deterioration and neglect. Despite many complaints, there have been no improvements.
“On Sunday, January 18 2009, I took another early morning stroll along the vagrant-infested embankment - at great risk to my own life because it’s an armed muggers' paradise. And again, there are tons of rubbish everywhere.
"Each day, residents in the flats along the embankment, like myself, have to look at this disgusting squatter camp mess. We get smoked out inside our flats all day and night from the cooking fires of these squatters.
"The place is smeared in human faeces, tons of litter and mountains of broken glass bottles which nobody is cleaning up.
“ I counted 403 mostly male vagrants sleeping on the Embankment alone. There are also many hundreds of homeless vagrants sleeping every night on the following sites: Stanger, Albert Park to the start of Southern Freeway, and along the railway lines. They always leave behind a huge, smelly mess, a combination of human faeces, tons of plastic and paper rubbish and broken glass, burnt out fires .All these once so pristine streets of downtown Durban's tourist areas are increasingly turning into squatter slums.
"There are frequent, very large knife and stick fights around the embankment's municipal toilet, the Yacht Mole and the Victoria Embankment. Squatters are sleeping in every doorway, alley and bushes around the Yacht Mole and Wilson’s Wharf. Every night, violent vagrants are chasing each other with sticks, screaming and shouting and running into the road in front of oncoming traffic at night. I phoned the police but they never come.
“The squatters have even moved onto the roof of the municipal toilets, averaging six to two each night sleeping there. Also, they do their daily washing at the municipal toilets and hang it up to dry on the railway fence.
“There is a permanent situation of stinking sewerage behind all the buildings around the entrance to the Yacht Mole. The complete railway line is covered in tons of rubbish, broken glass, an eyesore. I believe the municipal toilets should be demolished, and the half-round flower pots used by vagrants 24/7, should also be removed.
“If you are not going to demolish the toilet then I suggest that you put up powerful spot-lights on high pole so the homeless cannot hide and sleep in the bushes.The complete Victoria Embankment railway lines area is full of rubbish.
"Public imbibing of alcohol, usually bottles of Lion beer which are smashed to smithereens, takes place on the streets of the Victoria Embankment every day and night. And all the glass bottles are thrown onto the railway lines.
"Six months ago, the cast-iron manhole covers were stolen - which are creating a dangerous situation for pedestrians. They have never been replaced. Your green water-pumping station building is falling down and its becoming a squatter camp, with drunken vagrants sleeping next to the building every night.
Merry Christmas: 3 murders, 282 rapes at Durban beachfront
This past Christmas season and New Year's season at the Durban Beach Front was a total disaster - and a nightmare for local residents.
There were three murders on Durban beach on just one day -- December 18. There are daily murders on the beach. During the last eighteen days in December, there were 1,722 armed assaults, 111 gunshot wounds, 493 stabbings, 282 rapes. On Christmas and New Year's, the shards from many thousands of broken beer littered the beach, together with human faeces were deposited along the Durban beach front.
"There were tens of thousands of drunken hooligans everywhere, stabbing people, mugging, raping and shooting.
716 tons of rubbish within three days:
"Afterwards, the street cleaners picked up off 37,000 bags of rubbish from just two streets afterwards along the beach. And there were 51,000 bags of litter collected from the beach - rubbish, human waste and broken glass. In weight, this amounted to 716 tons of rubbish and broken glass from just three days of revelry.
“ In fact all of once so pristine Durban is deteriorating into one big squatter slum, a filthy, disgusting, unhealthy mess, with dangerously polluted water streaming into the ocean. Every river, the Durban Bay and the sea is highly polluted with tons of rubbish - it's an environmental disaster. Yet you are advertising Durban as the Nr. 1 holiday destination in South Africa, where all tourists are safe and welcome.
"But it's all a lie: Durban is the mugging capital of South Africa, and has become one vast, disgusting, derelict slum. Your assistance with the above will be greatly appreciated. PO Box 3021 Durban, 4000. Snowy Smith."
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