Eye on Crime (Part 1)
The many versions of one violent death in Manenberg
The story of Kashief Jacobus’ death has three versions. He died after an altercation with metro police officers on Saturday, 18 August, but that’s where the similarities end. The first version belongs to distraught family and neighbours. The second belongs to the Cape Town metro police. The third is that of the city’s multi-million rand surveillance system: there is a CCTV camera about 120m from where Jacobus met his end. But the City controls access to all footage. And, regardless of what the camera might have seen, Jacobus’ story highlights a crucial question: Does 24/7 surveillance of people terrorised by gangs, really reduce crime? Or is it simply an extension of a metro police force that bring their own brand of terror to poverty-stricken communities?
The City of Cape Town says 44-year-old Kashief Jacobus died after he “fell and hit his head”, following his obstruction of the metro polices’ “pursuit” of suspects. It happened in Manenberg, a suburb in Cape Town where gang fights and gun battles can ignite at any moment. But witnesses say Jacobus’ death resulted from the unnecessary violence that has become the hallmark of the metro’s authoritarian approach.
Here follows a summary of what happened on the evening of Saturday, 18 August 2018, according to neighbours, friends and relatives of Kashief Jacobus:
At about 7.45pm, on Saturday 18 August 2018, a small group of men were gambling on the corner of Renoster Road and Pecos Way in Manenberg. Jacobus and his four-year-old son were standing on that same corner. The metro police arrived in an unmarked white vehicle, wearing blue uniforms. They then randomly, and in a hard-handed manner, started searching a man on the street corner opposite from where the gambling was happening.
Jacobus walked over and stepped in to intervene, because the police had no reason to search the man, according to witnesses. Three people told Daily Maverick that one of the officers struck Jacobus in the face. When he fell, the cracking sound of his head hitting the ground was clearly audible to them. According to one witness, who was a few metres from the scene, “I heard his head crack. It was really loud. The street was busy, full of people and noisy. But I could hear it above that noise.”
This was confirmed by a second young witness, who stood near the gambling game at the time.
“His head made a cracking sound as it hit the ground. I keep playing the scene in my head. Over and over.”
A third witness, who stood on the opposite side of Renoster Street, within about five metres of the incident, said that Jacobus had been unnecessarily forcefully struck:
“A gangster doesn’t even slap someone like that.”
Also a witness is Jacobus’ four-year-old son. Briefly after the event, his mother, Tashrieka Jacobus, found him sitting on the steps outside his house, talking to himself, telling himself the story of how he had gone out to the street with his father and saw him being struck.
“They called my daddy. They smacked my daddy. He went down.”
She said the boy changed dramatically after his father’s death. He hardly talked, and she would find him sitting, expressionless in front of the television, as if staring into a void. His brother is 11. He didn’t see what happened, but after his father’s death, he started acting out, being overly aggressive, and had recently been in a fight at school.
“He was never like that,” says his mother.
She has also changed. She cannot stop crying.
Jacobus, who was a breadwinner in the family, has left behind his wife and eight children, aged between one and 20 years. His widow has no idea how she will manage.
After his head struck the ground, witnesses say, the metro police tried to revive Jacobus. After a few slaps in the face and couple of prodding kicks to his legs didn’t work, they put him in the back seat of the car, propped up between two other officers. The other two officers got into the front of the car. By now, the people on the street were starting to gather around, their anger growing.
As the police started to drive away, Jacobus’ brother, Shaun, who had just arrived on the scene, saw that they had his brother in the car. He says he ran to the car, knocking on the window, telling the police that this was his brother, demanding to know where they were taking him. He says the police swore at him, and drove off.
“They knew I was his brother. Why didn’t they offer to stop and let one of us go with them to the hospital?”
But it appears that the metro police did not go straight to hospital. This is according to information given by two witnesses (a husband and wife) who did not want their names mentioned in the media. Just before afternoon on that same evening, according to the woman, four metro police officers in a white vehicle parked in Olifant Street right outside their house, just under 2km away from the scene where Jacobus had his altercation with the police. A man dressed in plain clothing was sitting on the ground, his back leaning against one of the rear tyres of the car. His head was slumped forward, and it was dark. But the woman said she thought that it looked like Jacobus. She knew him because her brother was married to Jacobus’ sister.
The witnesses say one of the metro officers was pushing the man up against the tyre with his knee, as if to keep him upright. The officers asked the woman for water, which she gave to them in a plastic Tupperware container. The officers poured water over the man’s head, seemingly trying to revive him. They asked for water a second and a third time.
The woman says she then went to take a closer look, and she was convinced that this was Jacobus when she finally got a good look at his face. The metro police officers then told the couple that they had found the man lying drunk on the grass side walk near their home. But, says the husband, the man didn’t smell like alcohol. And, when he had driven away from his home on an errand 15 minutes before, there was no one lying anywhere on the side walk.
Upon his return, he found the metro police there, with the man propped up against the car. He was also puzzled as to why they did not call an ambulance to the scene. After failing to revive the man, they put him back in the car, propped up in the back seat between two officers, and left. The woman said that she was willing to give a statement to the police, but no one had come to take one
The next morning, after an anxious night, his mother, wife and brother-in-law headed out to find him. They went to the Heideveld Day Hospital, which was the closest hospital. But the family was told there was no record of Jacobus ever having been there.
They later learned that he was taken to Groote Schuur Hospital. On his release certificate, it states that he was brought to the hospital at 3:50 am on August 19, 2018. His time of death is noted as 11:24 am that same day. The discharge diagnosis: head injury.
What follows here, is the City’s version of events, according to a press statement issued on 20 August 2018:
The death of a member of the public following enforcement operations in Manenberg over the weekend is being investigated by the South African Police Service.
The City of Cape Town has been made aware of the death of a member of the public following a response by our enforcement staff to a complaint of illegal activities.
Officers attached to the Metro Police Gang and Drug Task Team and the City’s Stabilisation Unit reacted to a complaint of people gambling, drinking in public and smoking dagga on a street corner in Manenberg just before 21:00 on Saturday evening, 18 August 2018.
It was during the pursuit of the suspects that a member of the public apparently tried to obstruct officers, but fell and hit his head.
The officers attempted to assist the injured person on the scene but decided to take the man to hospital as a crowd had gathered and the situation was becoming hostile.
The injured person was taken to Heideveld Day Hospital where he received treatment. The man subsequently passed away as a result of his injuries.
The city is deeply perturbed by claims that the gentleman was deliberately harmed by officers.
We are investigating this matter internally and we are also co-operating fully with the South African Police Service to get to the bottom of the incident.
The statement, however, makes no mention of the third witness: the CCTV camera at the top of the street. Friends and relatives are adamant that something must have been caught on camera.
The City’s CCTV cameras do not simply record footage. Cape Town has two main CCTV control rooms to which CCTV footage from every camera in the city is streamed live and monitored by an operator. The operator is able to pan, tilt and zoom with the camera. In other words, an operator is like a remote bobby on the beat, and could have zoomed in on the incident if it was spotted.
Daily Maverick spoke to a CCTV camera technician who chose to remain anonymous because he has had professional dealings with the city. He said that the type of camera that was likely installed in Manenberg should easily have been able to clearly film the incident, if the operator controlling the camera from the city’s control room did their job.
The cameras were installed because Manenberg is a poverty stricken area tomented by gang violence. The last census, conducted in 2011, estimated that its nearly 53 000 residents (just under 11,000 households) were crammed into 3.35km². Manenberg is not the only poor, violence-riddled suburb on the Cape Flats where the city installed CCTV cameras. Other such areas under surveillance include Bonteheuwel, Langa, Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha, Philippi, Mandalay, Gugulethu, Athlone, Hanover Park, Bridgetown, Silvertown and Kewtown.
These areas are characterised by low-income homes, poor and crowded housing conditions, and service delivery shortcomings. Most have been earmarked for upgrades in Cape Town’s Mayoral Urban Renewal Programme, which started in 2012. The aim was to improve safety and living conditions of residents. CCTV cameras have formed a part of these upgrades.
But it will take more than infrastructure upgrades to solve the complex issues of families on the Cape Flats.
Roegchanda Pascoe‚ chairperson of the Manenberg Safety Forum, explains that violence results from a vicious cycle fuelled by poverty: teenage boys join gangs as a means of survival. Selling drugs for the gangs brings an income to a family that would otherwise go to sleep hungry. It also offers a measure of protection: Should a gangster randomly rob or attack someone, they can complain to the higher-up gang members. The wrongdoer will be violently disciplined by his superiors.
The reason for this protection?
“It’s a lucrative business,” says Pascoe.
She’s referring to the illegal drug trade driving gangsterism. She explains that its tentacles reach far beyond the family homes of Manenberg and the rest of the Cape Flats, penetrating the the police, the middle-class, cushy high-income suburbs, government, and the courts, ultimately sprawling far beyond the country’s borders. Gang bosses prefer the violence to stay contained in local, poverty-stricken areas, where the foot soldiers operate, but even here it is in their interest to keep the peace. Business runs less smoothly in a war. Usually, Pascoe says, shoot-outs occur between lower ranking gang members, over something like a girlfriend. All-out gang wars are somewhat rarer.
But the gangs also protect the community from the city. Recently, Pascoe recalls, a group of city’s housing department officials arrived – with the South African Police Service officers in tow – to evict an elderly woman from her town council home. The gangs stepped in, says Pascoe.
“They said, ‘Don’t worry Auntie. No one is throwing our people out of their homes today.’”
They open-fired on the city officials and police, who sped off, says Pascoe, never to return.
This is not to say that the community is content with living among gangsters; far from it. Rather, it’s a bitter compromise that effectively imprisons them.
Complicating matters is the community’s relationship with the metro police, with some seeing them as yet another threat to their safety. Jacobus’ mother, Hazel, says that about two days after her son’s death, metro police returned to the area. They were holding a boy upside down, by both legs and shaking him. She estimated the boy to be about 12 years old.
These tensions are not unique to Manenberg.
In Bonteheuwel, less than a ten minute drive to the north, the situation is similar. The morning of Wednesday, 29 August, children, the elderly, men and women held a peaceful protest, blocking two main roads. They were calling for increased visible policing (in other words, more police officials on the beat) and special police units to stop gang violence.
The SAPS and the city’s metro police were on the scene, decked out in riot gear. Much of the event was captured on film by photojournalist Shaun Swingler. The video shows a burly policeman shouting at the crowd through a megaphone, the scene an eerie replay of a harsh apartheid reality. The video also shows that the people refused to move, but remained peaceful.
The burly officer, however, warned the people that they were contravening the Regulation of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993, a piece of legislation passed in the death throws of apartheid. In accordance with the Act, the City of Cape Town requires a formal notification from protesters prior to protest action.
But post-1994, activists say, authorities have been adding their own interpretational nuances to the act, threatening people’s right to protest by creating red tape. In January, the Western Cape High court found section 12(1)(a) of the act, which declares organising a protest without notifying municipalities a criminal offence, unconstitutional.
Shortly after the warning to the crowd, explosive sounds are heard as tear gas erupts among protesters, many of whom were elderly people sitting in prayer circles. The officers then started to physically remove people, who still displayed no violence, from the scene.
It’s on the top of this bizarrely layered cake that the City’s CCTV cameras are perched. The metallic black cherries are said to be watching the streets 24/7. Part of a multi-million rand CCTV network, there are three such cameras in Manenberg. It’s part of a larger surveillance network of 1,578 cameras, according to the City. The City installed the cameras to improve community safety, and to assist in service delivery, such as management of the city’s transport systems. Cameras are connected by a fibre network to two control rooms, one located in the Cape Town CBD, and another in the suburb of Goodwood. Here, 120 operators monitor images streamed from cameras on all over the city on a 24/7 basis, according to a 2017 city presentation.
The city’s Medium Term Revenue and Expenditure Framework for 2016/2017 showed that it planned to spend a total of R45.5 million for the next three financial years (up to and including 2018/2019) on CCTV installation and upgrades. This does not include the system’s operational cost (salaries of control room operators, software and hardware upgrades, electricity use, etc) or maintenance costs. The City told Daily Maverick that maintenance, repair, and contracted services for the upkeep of the cameras for the last financial year amounted to R6-million.
Whether or not the City is getting value for money when it comes to crime prevention and convictions is hard to say. Even if the number of violent crimes in an area drops significantly after the installation of CCTV cameras, this may be because criminals are now conducting their businesses in other areas. In other words, crime is displaced. Currently, there is no effective cost-benefit model for urban CCTV systems in South Africa. Whatever the case may be, Pascoe says the shooting in Manenberg hasn’t stopped.
But, according to Jean-Pierre Smith, head of the city’s Safety, Security, and Social Services directorate:
“Most areas where there is a camera footprint have generally shown a lower level of crime.”
The City did not provide any statistics.
Thus, the City’s surveillance network continues to grow. According to the City’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP) for 2017 to 2022, its CCTV system is set to expand over the next four years, and is currently the “largest public-area surveillance agency in Africa, and the only in Southern Africa that covers residential areas, informal settlements as well as city centres”.
Every year, installing new CCTV cameras forms part of the City’s performance targets.
As far as the footage of events surrounding Jacobus’ death is concerned, the City holds all the cards, according a legal expert in city surveillance. As soon as a case is opened by the SAPS (as has been done in Jacobus’ case), the footage is considered evidence and is logged as such. This footage must be stored indefinitely and cannot be destroyed. However, says the expert, the general rule is that members of the public do not have access to evidence. In addition, if the authorities choose to protect their own, it is possible for them to simply deny the existence of the footage.
In the meantime, Jacobus’s family wants to know who will be held accountable for his death, and why they could find no trace of him at the Heideveld Day Hospital. For now, all they can do is wait.
(Daily Maverick has reliably learned that Jacobus was officially seen by a doctor at around 9pm at Heideveld Day Hospital, about 5km from the scene of the incident. This is about an hour after witnesses say his head struck the ground. But in its statement, the City claims that the officers were only called to Manenberg just before 9pm. Daily Maverick could not establish at what time he arrived at the Heideveld Day Hospital.)
The metro police did not answer answer specific questions directed at them for the purpose of this article, but referred the DM to the existing press statement above. When asked about the Bonteheuwel protest, they referred the DM to the SAPS for comments. When we asked SAPS about the protest, they said that “affected parties are encouraged to report the alleged police brutality or alleged wrongful arrest to police management, or the Independent Police Investigative Directorate so that the allegations can be investigated”.
In response to the query regarding Jacobus’ death, SAPS said that the case is being investigated by Manenberg police. A murder case has been registered and no one has been arrested or charged as yet. Once the investigation has been finalised, the case docket will be presented to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision regarding prosecution.
Daily Maverick sent the City several questions regarding this incident, but were referred to the press statement above. DM
Heidi Swart is a journalist who has extensively investigated South Africa’s intelligence services.
This story was commissioned by the Media Policy and Democracy Project, an initiative of the University of Johannesburg’s department of journalism, film and TV and Unisa’s department of communication science.
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