Newcastle beggars increasingly pose a challenge as their numbers grow and they frequent intersections, expecting handouts. The presence of these individuals raises concerns as they contribute to various issues, including crime and drug abuse.
Imran Ghafoor, a member of the Newcastle Crime Fighter Task Team, highlighted the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the situation. He explained, “Prior to COVID-19, the situation with beggars wasn’t that bad. Many of them used to perform odd jobs or work as car guards for extra income. However, when the lockdown happened, they were unable to continue these activities and resorted to begging at traffic lights.”
This shift resulted in an influx of beggars hitting the streets.
Ghafoor revealed that some businessmen had offered these individuals jobs, but the beggars declined. They cited that they make more money, around R300 to R400 per day, through begging.
Ghafoor emphasised that while begging may be a means of survival for some, these individuals also contribute to crime. He stated, “There have been incidents where beggars are involved in petty crimes, such as theft from motor vehicles and smash-and-grab incidents. Recently, a beggar snatched a necklace from a female motorist waiting at a traffic light.”
Furthermore, Ghafoor pointed out that the high number of beggars in town attracted other criminals who took advantage of the situation. This made it difficult for Newcastle residents to distinguish between destitute individuals and opportunistic criminals at traffic lights.
Regarding drug abuse, many locals have observed that certain beggars exhibit signs of drug use during the day. Ghafoor, drawing from his experience, estimated that 99% of the beggars in town were addicted to drugs, regardless of their race or age.
He revealed that much of the money given to them was used to sustain their drug habits, despite coming from decent backgrounds.
Additionally, beggars obstruct traffic flow by kneeling on roads while begging, walking among cars at traffic lights, or standing in the middle of the road. Ghafoor mentioned that he was aware of two beggars who were fatally struck by vehicles, resulting in legal consequences for the motorists involved.
The question arises as to whose responsibility it is to address the issue, considering that these beggars contribute to both drug abuse and crime. Ghafoor explained that law enforcement authorities had met with key stakeholders four months ago to discuss the matter. However, he noted that law enforcement could only take action if the beggars were caught committing a crime.
Ghafoor emphasised the need to enforce municipal by-laws to combat the situation effectively.
Seeking clarification, Newcastillian News reached out to the Newcastle Municipality for their perspective on the matter.
The municipality’s Communications Unit highlighted their responsibility to implement the by-laws outlined in the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996, which prohibits pedestrians from behaving in a manner that endangers themselves or others. They further noted that the Traffic Services Department prosecutes offenders. However, the Communications Unit acknowledged that the return of beggars to traffic lights was often due to public members offering them money, perpetuating the cycle.
The municipality’s Communications Unit further explained, “While the Municipality strives to improve the lives of its citizens, it operates in a country facing broader socio-economic challenges, such as poverty and unemployment. Law enforcement authorities will address reported incidents of crime accordingly.”
They additionally emphasised, “Any law enforcement officer can rely on Regulation 316(5) of the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996, which states that pedestrians should not conduct themselves in a manner that poses a danger to themselves or other traffic on the road.”
When taking the situation into account, Ghafoor urged residents to refrain from providing money or food to beggars in an effort to combat the problem.
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