eThekwini vows to triple security at Burman Bush following musician's murder

The eThekwini municipality has vowed to refence Burman Bush, a key conservation area in the heart of Durban, and triple security detail there after the murder of musician Simon Milliken last Friday.

It has also promised to come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with crime in 75 000ha of conservancies across Durban.

At a meeting in the park on Thursday, head of eThekwini Parks and Recreation Thembinkosi Ngcobo, said the existing fence was so porous it may as well not be regarded as a fence.

Ngcobo said South Africans were "under siege by a wave of crime" and visitors to Durban's 50-odd conservancies were easy targets for criminals.

His department has nine rangers to cover all 50, which he conceded was a "pathetic" number that ought to be 45 at least.

Increased security efforts

The murder of Milliken between 16:00 and 17:00 last Friday, was the third fatal attack in Burman Bush since 2016, Ngcobo said, and it meant the area would be prioritised with six rangers operating around the clock.

Access would only be permitted through one gate between 06:00 and 18:00 and a visitor register would be opened.

At Thursday's meeting, community representatives complained that no single entity co-ordinated security efforts in Burman Bush and other conservancies.

When Milliken, 60, was murdered, he was bird-watching in the park along with visiting international orchestra conductor Perry So, 36. 

The two were approached by an armed man, who demanded their belongings. While the assailant was rummaging through the bags, Milliken remonstrated with him.

A scuffle ensued and the pair fled but were separated in their escape. So said afterwards that Milliken had acted as a buffer between him and the attacker and yelled for him to get out. 

When So emerged from the park, he went into a local shop to raise the alarm but reportedly struggled to get anyone to respond to his pleas.

Milliken's body found

Journalist Ida Jooste, a friend of Millikin, spoke to So after the ordeal. He told her the assailant produced a knife when Milliken refused to part with his belongings. 

Police only arrived about an hour after So finally managed to raise the alarm.

Police scoured Burman Bush but could not find Milliken.

The next morning, his body was discovered less than 500m from the Burman Bush offices. He had been stabbed in the chest.

Residents John Roome and his wife Nirmi Ziegler were walking their dogs early on Saturday morning and came across Milliken's body.

"Nirmi and I found the body within about 10 minutes into our walk on the trail. Perry So must have showed the police which area they were in. For God's sake, it would not have taken more than 15 minutes to find him if they had sent a few cops on the different trails," Roome said.

In response to inquiries, SAPS issued a statement: "Members of the Search and Rescue Unit responded to calls to search for the missing man and searched the area until very late at night. They returned to the scene at first light when the body was eventually found."

Ryan Smith, who runs a laser tag and paintball outfit in the scout camp at Burman Bush and has a key to a gate at the north end of the facility, said he let the police in at about 18:00.

He said initially four policemen arrived, but between 18:00 and 02:00, about 20 police members combed the area. Eventually, a Search and Rescue team with a sniffer dog arrived from Richards Bay and walked inside and along the perimeter of Burman Bush looking for Milliken, but to no avail.

'Not a case of if, but when'

"They must have taken the wrong path. I don't think they were incompetent. I think it was a question of resources [with the sniffer dog arriving late]. Perry also wasn't familiar with the park, so wasn't able to guide them," Smith said.

Earlier this week, ward councillor Martin Meyer, who is behind long-standing moves to protect Burman Bush, expressed exasperation at police's difficulty in finding Milliken. 

At Thursday's meeting, Crispin Hemson, an office bearer of Wildlife and Environment Society SA, said visitors to Durban conservancies needed a local telephone number to call in the event of an emergency. 

Ngcobo agreed. He said six agencies were responsible for security in conservancies and their efforts were often not co-ordinated.

"We don't want to turn these areas into military operations. They are conservation and recreation areas. Our security plan will be all encompassing and community groups must play an active role. We are not islands. The crime comes from outside."

Ngcobo said he expected council to approve the R5m expenditure on the fence. 

"It is not a case of if, but when," he said.

A wider initiative, to formulate a plan for security in all Durban parks and City-run conservation areas, will be held at the International Convention Centre on September 23.

"Plant and animal diversity is critical to the survival of the city.

If we don't take care of these areas, many species unique to eThekwini will disappear. They are precious to the survival of the human race."

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