Gogos take back the streets

2012-08-06 15:40

Each time the members of KwaZakhele’s neighbourhood watch prepare to hit the streets, they arm themselves with sticks and makeshift hammers, don their jerseys and make sure they’re warmly wrapped up in blankets.

That’s because the watch is led by four elderly women – aged between 57 and 79 – who are tired of waiting for male residents, younger neighbours or police officers to tackle crime.

Sindiswa Ngcaphi (57), Nomthunzi Johnson (59), Nozamile Tetyana (72), and 79-year-old Nophumzile Silamsi’s brave efforts have inspired about 16 other residents in their small Port Elizabeth community to join the self-appointed neighbourhood watch.

Their decision to start a neighbourhood watch was inspired by the violent rape ­and murder last year of a young neighbour.

Amanda Magenuku was attacked just a few steps from her home.

Her naked body was found in Ngcaphi’s yard the next morning. Ngcaphi was her next-door neighbour.

“We all heard the screams but no one came out, even at her own house, because no one had any idea it was her,” Ngcaphi says.

Since the start of the year the women have foiled numerous attempted rapes.

They say they are driven by faith in God and believe they must get involved to protect the women of their community.

“When I go out I tell myself God will protect me. I cannot sit and do nothing when I hear our own girl children being raped and killed,” an emotional Ngcaphi said.

When they blow a whistle to signal the start of their nightly patrols, it is other women who respond by joining them.

“There are men here but we get no support from them. And we go out and the men, young and old, do not come out.

“Even in (community) meetings women are the most vocal. The men remain behind tying their shoelaces, and sometimes meet us on our way back,” Silamsi reflects.

All of the women have been victims of crime.

Ngcaphi is the only member of the group who is still married. The other women live alone.

Two weeks ago, Ngcaphi’s home was burgled in broad daylight and its meagre contents were completely cleared out.

“I went to the police myself and even today they have not come to the scene of the crime. This is why people take the law into their own hands,” she says.

Tetyana’s son was shot and killed in 2006 at a local tavern that the women believe is a major centre of crime in the area.

Local police had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.

But the gogos’ efforts on the streets of KwaZakhele have given them a chance to take back some power – and have earned them huge respect from their women neighbours.

Johnson’s granddaughter, Linda, who is studying at a local FET college, says she considers the women of the watch her heroes.



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