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KZN communities take charge of their own security in wa...

South Africa

JULY RIOTS, ONE YEAR LATER

KZN communities take charge of their own security in wake of 2021 unrest

Burnt out trucks at a depot in the Sea Cow Lake area of Durban on 12 July 2021 during the looting and riots in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

In the vacuum of leadership created by the July 2021 riots, two significant things have happened: Lower middle-class and middle-class communities in eThekwini have become better organised in their daily battles against crime — including being prepared for the possibility that widespread unrest will happen again — and have turned to technology for reliable assistance.

If the so-called “masterminds” of the violence, and the instigators, and the looters — those motivated by politics — had hoped to break the spirit of KwaZulu-Natal, they are possibly in for a rude awakening. Communities are now more tightly knit, have pooled resources and are taking their fight directly to local authorities and demanding better services. 

But a deeper, more troubling undercurrent cuts through all of this. Those same law-abiding communities caught unawares in July 2021 will not go down “without a fight” if large-scale unrest again takes place, they have told Daily Maverick.

While obtaining official figures is difficult, Daily Maverick has been told that firearm licence applications have soared since the riots. Police, however, have a backlog of at least 12 months for processing. While applicants wait, they have turned to non-lethal weapons as a source of protection.

“For many, where we live is all we have, and we do not have the means to just move. We need to make it safe and a better place to live,” said Craig Walker, a community leader in Durban’s working-class to middle-income area of Umbilo.

“I’ve been living in Umbilo for five years and since the looting, a year on, there is a much stronger sense of community. Neighbours have got to know each other, they have each other’s backs. Everyone wants to make Umbilo a safer place,” Walker told Daily Maverick.

The suburb’s local community watch, which began during the riots, has been on night patrols since and works closely with the local police.  

The story is replicated across the city and province. Many areas have set up voluntary first responder units, be they crime or health related.  Others host regular events open to the community, to foster a sense of unity. Still others have embarked on park and greenbelt clean-ups. 

When the province experienced serious flooding in April, these networks kicked into action and assisted those in distress. Roads were cleared of debris, transport offered and food and water given to those in need. 

New respect for Community Police Forums

Imtiaz Syed, chairman of the Community Policing Forum eThekwini central cluster, which oversees Point, Durban Central, Umbilo, Cato Manor, Berea, Mayville and Sydenham — all targeted during the unrest — told Daily Maverick that in the wake of the looting, police had a newfound respect for CPF structures.

“The CPFs have become much more vibrant since the failed insurrection. During the unrest, the police stations needed the CPFs. The CPF structures worked hard to try and guide angry community groups. At least within the central Durban areas, the CPFs did everything they could to help communities act within the law and limited vigilantism. As soon as the unrest was done, the stations we work with had a newfound respect for us. They are now calling us.” 

With that relationship improved, CPFs also have an opportunity to improve policing in their areas “through the boardroom”, said Syed.  

“CPFs must be viewed as the same as governing bodies in schools…. CPFs have the ability to be extremely effective and be involved in all aspects of the stations that they oversee.”

One area that was on the frontline of the looting was Manor Gardens, near the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Manor Gardens is the link suburb between Cato Manor and Cato Crest, areas with vast informal settlements that teemed with looters during the unrest.

Local business owner and CPF member Janus Horn told Daily Maverick that at the height of the riots, the main street in Manor Gardens was “eight people wide and a hundred deep” with looters, who pushed wheelbarrows, trolleys or whatever they could find to transport stolen goods.  

“Various stores were looted, and an attempt to storm the [Mayville] police station was only stopped with the help of community members who came to the station’s aid,” said Horn. 

Most community groups consist of either community watches or resident and ratepayer associations. They use a variety of digital platforms to communicate with one another, such as push-to-talk walkie-talkie app Zello, WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook. 

Monitoring cameras

But real-time monitoring cameras purchased by communities are also increasingly playing a role in fighting crime. 

“Now, within Manor Gardens, we have since installed 40 cameras as well as several automatic number plate recognition cameras. We still have some foot and vehicle patrols, but most of the security can be monitored remotely. We can have up to 200 people viewing the cameras at any time. We are in the process of setting up a control room. All of this is funded through the community,” said Horn. “If we don’t look after ourselves, no one else will. We need to be a step ahead.”

While working with local councillors is a necessity, some councillors themselves lack the moral compass to guide their wards. 

Horn’s ANC ward councillor, for example, Muzumuni “Mzi” Ngiba, was arrested in May on a murder charge. He is also alleged to still be on the city’s payroll. Ngiba’s bail application will be heard today (6 July), according to the NPA. He is accused of murdering his predecessor, Siyabonga Mkhize, in the run-up to the 2021 local government elections. 

While private security companies have for years offered CCTV zones as part of their packages to communities, this has mostly been within the financial reach of only the most wealthy suburbs. The game is changing, however, with increased access to high-speed, uncapped internet, particularly fibre.

According to Werner Hendrikse, the owner of NCAM, a CCTV installation company: “Most of my work comes from community-based organisations and most of our installations come from lower-income to middle-income areas.” 

“All we require is a host property, usually a private home, and an uncapped internet connection. Using AI technology we are helping communities have eyes on their streets 24/7.”

Hendrikse, who has a background in security and programming, said the first big spike in business occurred about three months into the strict Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020. The July riots increased the momentum.  

His company was born out of necessity, Hendrikse told Daily Maverick.   

“About four years ago, there were multiple robberies, hijackings and home invasions in the Westville area, where I live. The CCTV options of reasonable quality available to our community were simply unaffordable. For about a year, I researched the industry until I found products and developed a methodology that reduced the price by nearly two-thirds. In 2020/21 we installed our first cameras and now we have 150. Within a year, our crime dropped from 512 total incidents to 115.”

Volunteer monitoring

While some communities are partnering with security companies, the monitoring of cameras in other groups is done by volunteers. Instead of communities drawing up vehicle patrol schedules, they are now creating camera monitoring schedules. A smaller “volunteer unit” is also on duty to respond to any incidents, after alerting police.  

NCAM currently hosts 700 cameras in KwaZulu-Natal, but has a growing presence outside of the province. Hendrikse said his cloud-based product has been in high demand. 

In Glenwood, a more affluent Durban suburb, a community camera project known as Gecko Land has taken off. Resident Mike Mills told Daily Maverick how he and others had for about two years tried to motivate residents to buy into the project, without success.

“But then the rioting happened and that took care of that. Everyone became very interested again,” said Mills.

Since then, the community has installed 40 cameras. They also have three guard huts from where the cameras are monitored, along with road sensors and sirens in key locations to alert residents to serious issues. 

“We can’t rely on the cops to protect us. We must do it ourselves,” said Mills.  

Number plate recognition cameras

One of the big developments in community-funded crime-fighting has been the use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, used at most gated estates and business parks.

One KwaZulu-Natal company — Snipr — has rolled out more than 3,500 ANPR cameras across the country, with just above 1,000 of those in its home province. 

According to Corné Broodryk, the operations manager for the Kloof-based Snipr, the cameras are “flying off the shelf”. Sixty to 80 installations are being made a month, he told Daily Maverick

“We are connected to the police’s CAS system, which gives us access to a database of stolen vehicles, but it is a dirty database. For instance, a car may be stolen and then recovered and returned to the owner, but it is not removed from the CAS system. We need to validate the information coming in and have thus built our own control room and put systems and algorithms in place to better understand the data coming in. We are doing this manually,” said Broodryk.

ANPR also records distinct vehicle markings. 

“We are trying to move into the proactive space. Instead of relying on CAS, we are trying to identify suspicious vehicles beforehand. Using algorithms we can map a vehicle’s movement and then, if necessary, flag and alert local security companies or community watches of their presence in their neighbourhood. They may not be able to arrest the suspicious occupants, but they can shift them out of their area.”

Broodryk believes the state no longer has a reliable CCTV network and data collection processes, which has paved the way for private actors. 

“From the times I have visited the KwaZulu-Natal Disaster Management Centre, most of their 650 cameras are often down. The speed cameras in Durban don’t appear to work either. It is a massive concern,” he said.

While the city recently announced ambitions to roll out further CCTV infrastructure, previous roll-outs have been marred with kickback and corruption scandals, and a lack of maintenance contracts. 

For a former Umlazi resident now living in Glenmore, recently the victim of a home burglary, the need for communities to band together has increased exponentially since the unrest. She is one of dozens of monthly contributors to her area’s burgeoning camera project. Asked if she still felt the need for a firearm, the woman replied: “That’s between me, my God and the person I shoot.” DM

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  • The greatest thing to come out of the violence last year was the solidarity that decent, peace-loving people showed. The pivotal moment for me was when the president said on tv: ” racism is not what we thought it was”! It was an amazing confirmation that so much of the “racial” tension in SA is manufactured by the hate-mongerers and politicians just to gain support.

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