Western Cape neighbourhood watch groups on patrol to prevent looting and public violence
The focal point of neighbourhood watch members trying to quell crime in their communities has shifted to that of being the ears and eyes of the authorities, alerting them to protests and possible looting in the Western Cape.
A group of 20 women, members of the Bonteheuwel Neighbourhood Watch (BNW), were so focused on preventing a taxi driver from being attacked in the early morning hours of Thursday that they lost sight of their own safety.
Luckily no shots were fired and the women were unharmed.
The focal point of neighbourhood watch members trying to quell crime within their communities has shifted to that of being the ears and eyes for the authorities, alerting them to protests and possible looting in the Western Cape.
Deborah Ruiters, spokesperson for the BNW, said that with other neighbourhood watches, community protectors wanted to prevent any public violence in the Western Cape.
“It is extremely dangerous, especially for our group consisting of only women and other neighbourhood watch members out there. We are volunteers and unarmed.
“Those we are confronting are armed with all kinds of weapons. That is when you have to make quick-thinking decisions and don’t place your own life in danger.”
Recounting Monday’s incident, Ruiters said the group had been patrolling a crossing on the N7 separating Bonteheuwel and Langa as commuters from Langa, where taxis were not operating, were forced to walk to Bonteheuwel to secure transport.
“An empty taxi pulled up at the Langa side and commuters refused to board because the previous day a taxi loaded with passengers in Langa was forced off the road and shots were fired.”
She said the group of women had kept “a watchful eye on the taxi standing on the Langa side. We noticed a large group of men in Langa gathering and making their way to the taxi. We warned the driver and saved his life without realising that we could have been caught in the crossfire.”
Colin de Hart of the Mitchells Plain Neighbourhood Watch said their role was to monitor and report to the police anything suspicious in and around especially shopping malls. This group patrols throughout the night and a new group takes over the shift at 5am.
“I’ve warned my team members that their lives are more important than trying to be a hero. The very same community that you protect won’t be there for you when you end in hospital.
“During earlier service delivery protest action we were confronted by armed protesters. We had to retreat,” he said.
Since the start of the violent protests and widespread looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, De Hart and his team had been more vigilant in Mitchells Plain.
“We got a lot of old and sick people depending on the shopping malls to get their medicine and groceries. Looting of our malls will deprive the elderly and the sick of that vital service,” he said.
In Khayelitsha, the community sent out a clear message that no looting would be tolerated. Neighbourhood watch and members of the communities were patrolling malls in the area and also took to the streets with placards saying no to looting.
Khayelitsha Community Policing Forum (CPF) spokesperson Fransina Lukas said: “Our members, along with the police, will be on high alert over this weekend. Rumours are doing the rounds that our shopping malls in the area will be targeted.
“If we go over to looting in our area and in other townships then our communities are going to be worse off. It is time for social cohesion to stop this looming threat of looting.”
In Gugulethu, the Community Policing Forum partnered with the Igunya Neighbourhood Watch and deployed members in areas identified as hotspots.
In the gang-infested area of Hanover Park, the neighbourhood watch patrolled the local Shoprite mall.
This week two incidents were reported that were not related to protest or looting.
City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security JP Smith confirmed a protest in Vrygrond on Wednesday night was in response to the removal of structures in violation of a court order.
“The protesters attempted to turn that to their advantage and use the opportunity to attack Capricorn Park, but they were successfully blocked by SAPS, Metro Police and Law Enforcement,” Smith said.
Bronwen Dyke-Beyer, spokesperson for Golden Arrow Bus Services, confirmed reports that two buses had been ablaze at a secondary depot in Blackheath in the early hours of Thursday.
No injuries were reported and preliminary investigations do not point to arson as the cause, she said. A forensic investigator will conduct an in-depth investigation to pinpoint the exact cause of the fire which started on one bus and spread to another.
“We would like to ask the media and members of the public to please refrain from spreading fake news from unverified sources, which causes panic and can lead to actual incidents of vandalism as seen in other provinces,” she said.
James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell, reiterated that the SAPS and the Western Cape Disaster Management Centre are aware of multiple messages doing the rounds relating to alleged threats to various malls in the City of Cape Town and elsewhere in the province.
In the case of a WhatsApp message circulating that lists seven malls as targets, he said, the threat had been assessed and was not considered to be of major concern.
“The Joint Operations Centre believes that there is no major risk at this stage, and no need for malls to close. Should the situation change, this would be communicated immediately,” Styan said.
Bredell has emphasised that social media platforms can create unnecessary fear and panic. He has asked people to report any concerns to their local police station and try to verify with official sources before distributing any information.
Calling for calm and advising people not to stockpile goods, Bredell said: “Taking the law into your own hands is strongly discouraged. We urge communities to take note of the risk in their areas and to avoid confrontations and escalating conflict.”
Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz lauded neighbourhood watches. “I would like to extend a special thanks to all neighbourhood watch and other community members who patrolled and were active on Wednesday night to help keep our communities safe.
“Thank you for stepping up and for taking ownership. Let’s continue to work to keep our communities safe.” DM/MC
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