Broken promises, broken lives
Four months after the Police minister promised action against gangs, a desperate community is now making its own policing plans
“It’s Sassa day, when everyone is a millionaire for a day,” quips Haroon Nobel as he walks towards a shipping container which is supposed to help crack down on crime.
People queueing nearby for their social grant payouts in the heart of Hanover Park, on the Cape Flats, are soft targets for gangsters on the first day of every month.
“Watch your step,” Nobel warns as he tiptoes around faeces and shards of glass. The stench is insulting and the carcass of an animal has attracted an army of flies next to the container, which has become a hideout for tik addicts and criminals. Everything inside, including the toilet and insulation in the walls, has been stolen.
Nobel, who works at a shop next to the container, said it arrived after Police Minister Fikile Mbalula visited in October to assure residents he would protect them.In November, Mbalula promised the army would be deployed to gang-ridden areas by Christmas and said he was confident President Jacob Zuma would grant the request. It would have been a merry Christmas for residents. But it never came.
“We need a police station here. More than 20 years ago, where that container is standing, we had a mobile unit. And this area was safe,” said a council worker who asked not to be named. “Now police take so long to respond. By the time they get here the gangsters have already reconciled.”
Nobel said since criminals moved into the container his workplace had been burgled three times. “The container is empty and people are dying.”
An elderly woman struggled past the Sassa queue. “I don’t get my pension here. I take a taxi to Kenilworth Centre. It is not safe here,” she said as her daughter encouraged her to walk faster.Moulana Thohar Rodrigues said the container was donated by the office of mayor Patricia de Lille after they asked for help. Confirming it had never been used by police, he said it had become a problem in the area.
Rodrigues belongs to the Interfaith Coalition of Hanover Park, which has decided to try to bring peace to the community without the help of the police or law enforcement officials. Instead they are assisted by a group of community activists, the Hanover Park Society, which is attempting to marshall a ceasefire.
“Three months back we had between 28 and 32 deaths here but we’ve managed to bring peace for two months now,” said Rodrigues, adding that the Muslim Judicial Council had agreed to assist in mediating with gangsters.
Violence had started to flare up again and things were “a bit tense”. A gangster was shot recently. “We urge all policing units to be more visible in the ‘red-zone’ areas in Hanover Park until the prevailing conditions calms down,” said Rodrigues.
“If they don’t know the hot spots or potential red zones, then they need to engage with the Hanover Park Society that is continuously on the ground.”Community safety MEC Dan Plato said he had no idea why there had been a flare-up of violence. As for the deployment of the army, Plato said he would ask Mbalula for an update at their next meeting.
When questioned about the request to Zuma about the deployment of the army, Mbalula's spokesman, Vuyo Mhaga, said they had not received a response from the president.
Last week phase two of Operation Fiela – a multi-disciplinary anti-crime operation including troops – was launched in the Mother City. Under the leadership of the SAPS, the operation kicked off in crime hotspots including Mitchells Plain, Khayeliltsha and Nyanga. Over 120 arrests were made, drugs confiscated and searches executed.Police spokesman Brigadier Novella Potelwa insisted that policing Hanover Park “remains one of the top priorities” in the Western Cape. “Currently our response to crime challenges in Hanover Park around the terminus block warrants mobile deployments as opposed to static ones. Random operations are executed at identified times,” said Potelwa.
City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith said law enforcement officers would discuss removing the container with the local councillor, who was in charge of it.
Resident Jocelyn Carelse, 59, does not care about the container or the army. “I just want them to see me, to see us,” she said.
“Our children need love. We need organisations to help our children who turn to gangsterism because they don’t have food to eat or even shoes. I just want the world to see us.”