To effectively combat crime, communities need to work together, not only with each other and law enforcement agencies but also internally. After weeks of protests and violence in our area, everyone is upset with everyone else and this has led to a situation where crime and criminality cannot be effectively managed,” says Gerrit Swanepoel, Secretary of Hermanus Community Police Forum (CPF).

Photo: Marthunis Barnard, MyWhaleCoast

According to Swanepoel, a student of criminology and lecturer by trade, what is one person’s crime is another person’s protest and because the different communities do not have a full understanding of each other’s struggles, fears and aspirations it leads to a situation where enemies are soon born.

Following several months of unrest where roads were blocked, businesses vandalised and clashes between the police and protesters at times reached boiling point, many residents have questioned the tactics of the SAPS of not arresting those who are guilty of public disorder or other criminal acts.

SAPS Cluster Commander, Donovan Heilbron says the role of the police during riots is to contain the situation and prevent it from spilling over into other areas or becoming so tense as to put people’s lives in danger.

“We observe what is happening at every protest and we try and keep the people as calm as possible. We do take pictures and videos that can later be used as evidence against those who commit crimes and to arrest certain individuals.

“We do not, however, use strong-arm tactics to intimidate strikers or to arrest large groups of people. It is important to know that in most instances law enforcement officials are seriously outnumbered and should the situation become uncontrollable we will be overrun and unable to stop an angry crowd from wanton destruction,” says Heilbron.

According to him all cases opened during the riots are being investigated. “There have been several cases of intimidation opened by both individuals and businesses, and investigations are ongoing. In some instances, the video material and photographs we have are being used to build cases and those dockets will be handed over for prosecution,” he adds.

Due to the lack of effective policing some communities have taken to combatting crime on their own. Many suburbs in all our towns have active and dedicated neighbourhood watch systems that collaborate with law enforcement agencies and private security companies to assist in fighting crime.

Cases being built against criminals

In the last few weeks Zwelihle in Hermanus has decided to take a serious stand against crime in the neighbourhood. Under the auspices of Zwelihle Renewal (ZR) a strategic plan has been tabled whereby an action programme was launched that will run “until every woman, man and child can walk freely in the streets without the concern of being raped, robbed or killed”.

After announcing the plan at a public meeting on 10 June, a group of 500 people took to the streets and torched a house belonging to ANC councillor Connie Tafu- Nwonkwo after residents alleged that drugs were being sold at the property. A traumatised Tafu- Nwonkwo denied all knowledge of any drug dealing. Two cases of arson have been opened, but no arrests have been made.

According to ZR leader Gcobani Ndzongana the community is committed to eradicating crime in its entirety in the area. “We have discussed our plan with the SAPS and we will not rest until every criminal has been driven from the suburb. We do not condone vigilantism, but you must understand that crime is a huge problem and the rights and freedom of innocent people are being trampled upon. We will not allow that,” says Ndzongana.

According to him ZR has received a clear mandate from the community to continue their fight against crime. “Our plan is simple. We will fist deal with drug dealers and their suppliers. Drugs are the root cause of crime in our community and anyone involved in the selling or distribution thereof needs to be removed and handed over to the police. We will deal harshly with criminals and burn down all their operating places.”

According to him those community members who commit acts of crime outside the borders of Zwelihle must be apprehended and brought to the community for them to deal with the culprits before handing them over to the police.

“This programme will continue until all our residents are safe, day and night. We will not allow crime to steal our future. We are aware that there are those in the white community who are demonising us on social media for our actions. We take note of their displeasure, but we want them to understand that we also know where drugs are being sold in the CBD and we will put an end to that, too,” says Ndzongana.

Heilbron says they have met with the ZR leadership and welcome and appreciate their initiative. “We did make it clear that mob justice or vigilantism cannot be allowed, and we will arrest those who make themselves guilty of it. We would much rather see the Zwelihle initiative become a neighbourhood watch that works in conjunction with the SAPS. We would also like the community of Zwelihle to become active members of the CPF so that they form part of the bigger community fight against crime.”

According to Swanepoel social media plays a significant role in the interactions between communities. “It has the ability to both bond and tear apart communities. In Hermanus it is unfortunate that in most instances it is the latter. Because social media makes it so easy to voice your opinion to a large group of people it provides a platform for those who want to make themselves heard. Unfortunately, most of the reactions are of the kneejerk variety, further stirring anger.

“It is a fact that emotional intelligence does not feature prominently on social media. People react to information within seconds without first thinking of the impact that their comments might have or that it might be discriminatory. My advice to people is to think before they type. It is easy to make a comment, but we must think before we do it. I see so many derogatory comments by people who have impressionable children that see the comments and emulate what their parents say.

“We need to start the process of transformation and commitment to end discrimination and crime in our own homes. This must be done by the examples we set for our children and by educating both ourselves and our children on how to become productive members of society.

“Combatting crime is not only about giving money or not committing crimes. Its about giving your time, energy and talents to the community and setting an example that others want to follow. Start by joining your neighbourhood watch or attending CPF meetings.”

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