Following the mass killing of 11 people in Philippi East late last week, a public outcry has thrown a spotlight on the area. But beyond the usual questions of who did it, when and why, a deeper question remains. When violence has been sustained and severe, with vigilante killings on the rise, is it too little, too late? And who is really picking up the pieces? By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.
By Monday, officials were scrambling to assist the Marikana community in Philippi East, as angry residents called for the staff of the police station to be replaced.
Marikana’s fraught history began with a drawn-out legal battle over land occupation that resulted in a landmark ruling earlier this year. Side-effects have included a protracted struggle for service delivery.
Now, the community is reeling from a mass killing that residents fear will not be the last. “Things will turn ugly if nobody is arrested for these murders,” Nyanga Community Policing Forum Chairperson Sandile Martin warned.
Residents, he said, had reached “boiling point”.
Eleven people were murdered in Philippi East in Cape Town at the weekend, which falls in the Nyanga policing zone – the long-reigning murder capital of South Africa. At four different scenes, 10 people were shot dead, with another later dying from gunshot wounds.
This followed the killing of seven others in what police have speculated was a related incident of vigilantism the previous Tuesday. September also saw the necklacing of three suspected robbers, the recovery of several weapons, and reported threats to police if they patrolled through Nyanga.
“It is alleged that in the first incident unknown suspects fired shots inside a tavern, fatally wounding four people. In the second scene in a shack, three more were shot dead and one outside the dwelling. Not far from the second scene, two more bodies were found lying in the street. Another person died in hospital from gunshot wounds sustained in the attack,” Police Minister Fikile Mbulula confirmed on Saturday.
Ward 35 councillor Mboniswa Chitha said the killers had forced entry into some of the shacks in the townships and in some cases forced parents to perform oral sex in front of their children.
Daily Maverick’s sources did not link the incident to the broader gang war currently said to be under way in the Cape Town area – a turf war between the Sexy Boys, the Hard Livings, the Terrible Josters, and infighting between three factions of the 28s. Two sources believed one of the victims might be in hiding from enemies in Crossroads, but was hunted down in Philippi. Daily Maverick was unable to confirm this independently.
MEC for Community Safety Dan Plato told Daily Maverick the identities of some perpetrators were known to the SAPS, and that the latest killing spree was probably related to the earlier case of suspected vigilantism. “This was first and foremost an act of criminality,” he said. “We listened to some of the recordings [of] when the attack happened. Some of the alleged perpetrators did refer to what happened in the past. That’s why we believe it is linked, that these guys came back to settle a score.”
Across the country, the question was raised of who was involved, what exactly happened to precipitate the bloodshed and why.
The greater context remains a knotty problem. Nyanga is one of several areas fighting for a larger number of police resources. The Nyanga Community Police Forum, Social Justice Coalition and Equal Education have taken the matter to the Equality Court, arguing that the distribution of resources is inequitable along racial lines.
There are also the basics. According to SJC senior researcher Dalli Weyers, community members have been calling for better lighting in Philippi, Nyanga and Khayelitsha. The area surrounding Marikana has been making do with one light. “A great deal of crime occurs under the cover of darkness,” Weyers told Daily Maverick.
A quick snapshot of Philippi East: 96.82% black African, 1.57% coloured, fractional percentages of all other ethnic groups. The majority of residents are youth aged 15-24. Just 29% of residents have Grade 12. Some 15% have no schooling at all or just some primary school. Around 36% are unemployed. Add in discouraged work seekers and those not economically active, and the numbers grow to around 60%. With an average household size of 3.4, the majority of households are surviving on either no income, or less than R3,200 per month.
Weyers believes the incidence of vigilante killings and revenge killings across the Nyanga precinct and elsewhere indicates a total breakdown of trust between the police and community members, where residents believe that they must take matters into their own hands regarding crime. Weyers noted that 2016 crime statistics revealed nearly a tenth of murders in which police could ascertain a motive were vigilante killings. Meanwhile, the murder rate across the Nyanga area continues to rise – by nearly 6% in as many months.
Band-Aid on a broken leg?
Dispatching more police resources in the short term is helpful, but many of the problems are systemic. Weyers argues that Nyanga’s precinct is finding itself, in many ways, in the same position as Khayelitsha before the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of police inefficiency. This is why, he adds, the SJC and Equal Education are taking SAPS to court in November to insist that recommendations from the commission are implemented.
Forcing SAPS to implement the recommendation on police resources will also “unlock other recommendations”, believes Weyers, which would make it easier for officers on the ground to do their jobs.
“It is shocking that there is no national directive on visible policing in informal settlements,” he adds. “It is problematic and unconstitutional, and SAPS has not solved that problem. What should police do in informal settlements? What would be required in a team to carry out visible policing, to ensure safety and greater contact and visibility?” Practical guidelines like putting officers on quad bikes would be helpful, for example.
What’s being done – and how helpful is it?
The Portfolio Committee on Police urged the SAPS to mobilise all possible resources to find the perpetrators responsible for the killings and called on the Hawks to deploy more members of the Illegal Firearm Unit to assist in the investigation. The committee was due to discuss the incident and its repercussions for policing at a meeting in Parliament on Monday.
“As South Africans we cannot allow that a small band of criminals continue with conduct that is not in line with the values of a democratic state,” said Chairperson Francois Beukman.
The SAPS for their part are bringing in the heavy artillery. Provincial police commissioner Khombinkosi Jula has brought in senior detectives, among them a deputy commissioner‚ Major-General Mpumelelo Manci.
Mbalula praised Manci’s appointment, adding that Manci would be supported by specialist detectives, intelligence operatives and Tactical Response Team members, as well as the National Intervention Unit. But at the weekend, angry protesters marched to the police station, asking why the three memoranda they had handed over, calling for Tactical Response Team deployment, had been ignored.
Is it too little, too late? Weyers says, “To some extent the heavy guns will be beneficial in the sense that a whole lot of illegal weapons are scattered through the area. The ability to take those firearms off the street would be beneficial.” But the longer-term problem had to be addressed, he added.
Following a mass meeting at the Philippi police station on Sunday, in the presence of the Human Rights Commission, Plato had a stern take on the way forward. “It is a case of the police having to find the perpetrators and arrest them. But that does not take away the fact that some community leaders were aware of the impending attacks and warned police that violence was coming. The police did not react,” he said.
“In other communities there is a similar pattern. It seems there is a continued breakdown between communities and police. Community members are very vocal in that they do not have trust in the police.”
Community members asked “for the whole station management and officers to be removed and replaced by others”, said Plato. “It’s a very serious statement against the credibility of the police.”
Jula, for his part, has promised immediately to deploy more resources and manpower for visible policing, which some community leaders received with relief, although others remained frustrated.
Police safety is another issue, as officers have reportedly faced threats for patrolling. At the mass meeting, residents complained that officers frequently avoided getting out of their vehicles, which impacted on confidentiality.
“Police leadership is well aware of the issues,” said Plato. “It is under their attention.”
Mbalula was scheduled to visit Philippi East on Tuesday morning, “to meet and engage the community of Philippi and the families who lost their loved ones”, the Ministry of Police said in a statement on Monday.
In the meantime, Plato said an immediate challenge was to combat the high level of youth unemployment in the area, exacerbated by little access to tertiary education. Particularly, youth with criminal records struggled, he said. “From my side we will see how we can address that – we will start with one or two youth outreach programmes and see how we can assist to get youngsters out of their dire straits.”
Plato was not able at the weekend to specify details of the programmes or give a time frame. “I will command my staff even tomorrow to find the dates in my diary a.s.a.p.,” he said. “I will be back in Philippi on Monday to give the community leaders the necessary answers.” DM
Photo: Police confront protesters from Lower Crossroads in May 2015. Archive Photo by Nombulelo Damba.