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Escape from Whoonga Park

by Samora Chapman / 19.06.2013

If you wanna live to see tomorrow, don’t go to Whoonga Park in the Durban inner city. It is the scariest place on planet earth. The area caught my attention recently when it emerged that a convoluted network of storm water tunnels exist under Poison City – extending from the harbour to Whoonga Park (near Wawrick Junction), then branching off to Umbilo, Glenwood, Berea and Greyville. According to recent news reports – criminals, drug fiends and immigrants are living in the tunnels, klapping whoonga and getting up to all sorts of other nasty business.

When I was a kid I loved the Ninja Turtles. So I decide to go have a gander down at the tunnel entrance and maybe snap a few portraits of the candid locals.

Parking

On a bright Wednesday morning, I drop my son at playschool and head down to town. I pop into a garage to buy a muffin (blueberry) and get some change as an offering to the locals, which is my best practice when taking street portraits.

I park my limo at Albert Park, where the Durban hip hop scene was born, sling my camera over my shoulder, sniff the smoggy air and hit the inner city for a morning stroll.

I stop at the taxi rank under the highway to ask exact directions to Whoonga Park. “Walk over that bridge, by the train tracks,” a friendly gangster tunes me. I give him a cigarette and go on my way.

Smoke

As I draw nearer I recognize the place and my skin starts tingling. I’ve been here before.

When I was a young graf fiend my friend and I explored this very corner of the city on a midnight mission. And things went horribly wrong. A naked lunatic burst out of a plastic tent, wailing like a werewolf and wielding a 6-foot sjambok. He came running at us with intent to kill and we fled into the night. But he wouldn’t give up chasing, hunting us through back alleys and whipping the air like demon sent straight from hell to drink our young white-boy blood and drag our bodies back to his den. We got away by the skin of our teeth.

Back to real time and my heart starts tryna climb out of my throat, which is drying up rapidly as I draw nearer. Whoonga Park is fairly abandoned but there is a gap in the wall to the train tracks and I can see a buzz of activity, like the entrance to a beehive.

Whoonga Park Gateway

Two guys approach me looking scary as fuck. The one has a gash on his head that looks festering… and I’ve got my camera tucked under my arm ready run faster than a thief in the night.

“What are you doing here,” the guy with the gash asks me.

“I’m looking for Whoonga Park and the tunnels.”

“This is Whoonga Park,” he says making a motion toward the patch of land between the highway and the train tracks. There’s a pile of rusty barb-wire and a dark hole, which I’m guessing could be the tunnel entrance.

Before I can take a photo, the gash says: “Get out of here. They’ll keeeeel you.”

I don’t need to be told twice – I’m already running as a couple of rogues start to spill out of the hole in the wall. As I climb back on the bridge, I hang over the edge and see an incredible sight. There are about hundred people milling about… smoking, staggering and wailing in a strange trance. It looks like a refugee camp. I pull out my camera and take a few snaps… but in moments the crowd is buzzing like an angry mob.

Suddenly the sky is filled with rocks, which whistle through the morning air past my head like bullets. I hear a series of cracks as the stones start striking the bridge.

View from the bridge

So I duck down and start running for my precious little life. Under the bridge… Through the taxi rank and into my little blue Honda that my granny gave me.

Turn the ignition, rev that shit and flee. Just another day in the jungle.
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Read the next instalment of our Whoonga investigations here.

* All images © Samora Chapman.

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