Durban – Community activists and residents of Chatsworth believe that “criminals” are deliberately placing obstacles on a particular section of the Higginson Highway east-bound carriageway and ambushing motorists when they crash.
Pratish Choudhree, 46, was killed last Saturday when his car crashed in the same area, which locals are now calling a “hell-run”, after he tried to avoid boulders planted on the road.
The car veered out of control, landed on its roof on the centre median with Choudhree’s legs dangling out of the vehicle. A mob of 20 people surrounded the car, rolled it back onto its wheels and helped themselves to valuables, including Choudhree’s pants and shoes.
When emergency services arrived at the scene, he was declared dead.
Activists are now demanding better lighting, CCTV cameras and more police patrols on a patch of road, alongside the Bottlebrush Informal Settlement.
Choudree lived with his 80-year-old mother Anoo in Isipingo Hills, south of Durban.
“What a darling son I lost,” said an emotional Anoo.
“He was a kind-hearted person who always helped others and he was always a careful driver. I heard there were some obstacles on the road which he tried to avoid.”
Anoo said her son’s body was discovered minus his wallet, cellphone, jeans and shoes.
“I’m struggling to happened,” she said.
Choudhree’s misfortune brought back jarring memories for Marlin Pillay’s family. He died after a crash in the same vicinity.
Pillay had various injuries, spent 36 days in hospital before he died in September 2017.
He was a passenger in a Golf driven by a friend, and they were on an early morning fishing trip to Anstey’s Beach on the Bluff, when they crashed.
Despite sustaining serious injuries, Pillay’s friend survived. get over what
The driver attempted to avoid boulders and a street light pole placed on the road, but the car somersaulted and landed on its roof in a nearby ditch, close to houses in the settlement.
Both men were trapped in the vehicle, but were pulled from the wreckage, robbed off the possessions and left in their underpants, while they lay unconscious.
The vehicle was also stripped and only its shell remained.
Anash Rajpaul’s, Pillay’s uncle, wondered whether his nephew would have survived had he not been “yanked out of the vehicle” because he spent 36 days in intensive care.
“His death has had a devastating effect on our family. His unemployed parents have suffered the most because he was their breadwinner.”
Rajpaul said the street lights were not working in that section of the highway at the time and police were yet to give them feedback.
Sanjay Ramrattan, a community activist who served alongside Pillay in the Crossmoor Crisis Committee, said police could have done much more with the investigation.
Ramrattan questioned why Pillay’s cellphone was not tracked because an individual answered the phone up to two weeks after the crash.
He said he “personally attended 15 incidents in the same area, over a 4-month period in 2017”, including a policeman who also crashed while trying to avoid rocks on the road.
“The incidents quietened for a while, started again last year and has now increased significantly,” said Ramrattan who also complained that the area was often poorly lit.
Eugene Ishwarlall, chairperson of the Chatsworth Towing Association, was one of the first vehicles to arrive at the scene of Choudhree’s crash and said “it’s happening all the time”.
Ishwarlall said he and two other tow trucks had to stand afar, fearing being pelted with stones by the mob, if they approached Choudhree’s vehicle, as it had happened previously.
He said on one occasion the mob looted a vehicle, robbed the driver and even attempted to take equipment from a paramedics’ vehicle, in full view of the police, who stood aside.
“I’ve given police a detailed account of what I witnessed last Saturday, but they have yet to take a statement from me,” said Ishwarlall.
Omi Nair, a veteran community activist, said the senseless deaths of Choudhree and others should not go unchallenged.
“The most despicable act was victims were shown no mercy despite being critically injured, and were stripped of their belongings, yet all these incidents remain cold cases.”
WARD 71 COUNCILLOR
Previn Vedan, Ward 71 councillor, said he was taken by surprise when he first heard about Pratish Choudhree’s death.
“We in the community usually learn quickly about such incidents and we are able to identify criminal elements. Police are investigating and our leaders in the community have put out feelers for information on the incident.”
Vedan said the Bottlebrush Informal Settlement comprised 12 zones, with each having an area committee to manage residents.
The area where Choudhree’s crash occurred was named “Sukamuva”, was the largest in the settlement, and Vedan was unsure whether the criminals involved were from there.
“We met area representatives on Friday and we are all about preventing this from happening again, and preventing people from placing rocks and obstacles on the road.
“We are determined to find the culprits and have them charged. I’m also trying to establish the reasons such incidents occur, whether it’s criminal, greed, or desperation.”
Vedan said it was known that 6 000 people lived in the area but it looked closer to 15 000. A big part of his work was to quantify who lived there, and provide essential services and homes.
There were many challenges to deal with, but Vedan said they were trying to unite the community and fight crime and negativity.
Vedan said, at times in the past, there had been daily protests, especially in 2014 over service delivery issues and xenophobic attacks
Two years ago, Vedan motivated for CCTV cameras to be installed in the area to monitor criminal activity. They got positive confirmation from the municipality in 2019, but since then there have been delays.
“Jakes Singh, the head of the Chatsworth CPF, has spoken about starting a community policing forum in the settlement. We have also asked SAPS to increase patrols and they have.”
He acknowledged unemployment was a big problem in the area, with some people becoming desperate.
“But we need to be responsible for our actions and we shouldn’t be stoning vehicles. We also operate a daily soup kitchen so nobody in Ward 71 can say they are starving. I can’t see how this issue can be brought down to poverty. It is purely criminal and the people who are responsible must be brought to book.”
Parbhoo Sewpersad, metro police spokesperson, said they received regular reports of vehicles being stoned or obstacles placed on the Higginson Highway.
“The problem in the area is rife. “In response, we have increased our visibility with regular patrols and blue light calming, and we are working closely with the SAPS.”
Sewpersad said the area desperately needed high-powered facial recognition cameras to catch culprits.
“If members of the community notice obstacles, they must call 031 361 0000,” said Sewpersad.
With regards to Choudhree’s death, Captain Nqobile Gwala, the SAPS spokesperson, said a case of culpable homicide was being investigated.