PTA residents up in arms about CPF frisk routines

2014-11-17 17:43
(Jonisayi Maromo, Sapa)

(Jonisayi Maromo, Sapa)

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Pretoria - On a cloudy Monday afternoon, an imposing group of watchful, youthful men and women in bright yellow bibs religiously congregate along Thabo Sehume street in central Pretoria. They do so almost every day, in different streets.

Their work is partly inscribed on their bright yellow bibs - Pretoria central community policing forum (CPF). Some in the group are wearing police issue black boots, some are in the trademark SA Police Service blue fatigues.

They are known as the community patrollers. They refer to themselves as the crime-fighters. There are many groups of between 15 and 20 such "patrollers" working across the city of Tshwane.

An elderly man, Elfas Masevhe, 65, tries to weave his way past the group of more than 30.

The senior citizen is briskly grabbed by his belt, from behind by two of the patrollers. He stands his ground firmly, demanding an explanation.

Nevertheless, he is searched and allowed to continue on his journey.

A leader of the community patrollers shouts at Masebe: "Criminals have taken over this city. Drug dealers and prostitutes are operating in broad daylight in this city. We are here to change all that."

Metres ahead, on the same street, another group of more than 20 patrollers insist on searching Masebe again. This time the old man puts up a harsher protest, but gets thoroughly searched even in his socks.

After losing more than 20 minutes in the body searches, a livid Masebe gives the CPF group an earful.

"You are as doomed as the government which sent you to harass people. I do not understand how government can deploy uneducated, jobless young people to harass innocent citizens while criminals live freely," he says pointing at the CPF members with his walking stick.

A leader of the patrollers, who only identifies himself as Bra Oupa says his group is on a voluntary mission to rid Pretoria of crime.

"We cannot sit back when criminals are taking over the streets. This is South Africa's capital and it has to be crime-free. We will teach criminals a lesson," he said emphatically to nods of approval from his charges.

"Police cannot be everywhere. Our strategy is to search everyone - man or woman. Why would people complain if they have nothing to hide?"

But some residents complain of assault at the hands of the community patrollers.

'Choked and slapped'

Trevor Musemwa stays in a block of flats along Thabo Sehume Street. His daily routine includes picking his five-year-old son from the nearby Founders Community School after midday.

"I get thoroughly searched everyday, and I am getting used to it. It is degrading to be searched in the street but these CPF members assault you if you refuse. Sometimes I get searched on my way to pick my son and when I came back. They demand to see my ID everytime," says Musemwa.

"It is ridiculous because in Pretoria, places where drugs are traded in broad daylight are known. You do not see any of these community patrollers there. Whoever deploys these street cops has lost the plot."

University student Rhulani Mulaudzi alleges he was repeatedly slapped when he did not show his identity to the patrolling group.

"Pretoria central is no longer free. I cannot go around showing my documents to anyone who demands them. I was choked and slapped in the street," says Chauke.

"We all thought the stop and frisk operations were gone with apartheid. I have no doubt these young people are being used to turn against their fellows by wicked politicians."

He says there were police officers amongst the community patrollers, but they did not restrain the attackers.

"The police officers were just laughing when I was attacked. I didn't have the courage to go and report the matter after that. Whoever is paying these cowardly CPFs is wasting taxpayers' money," says Chauke.

'What happened to human dignity?'

Pretoria central police spokesperson, Warrant Officer Ann Poortman says there have been no cases of assault opened at the station.

"The community patrollers are an initiative of the [Gauteng] department of community safety to assist with neighbourhood watch and patrols.

"The community patrollers get deployed with police officials in command and they are allowed to assist in searching or to effect an arrest on request or instruction of the police officer in command," says Poortman.

She urged the community members who claim harassment to lay complaints with the police.

Another resident Isabel Venter says the community patrollers did not help in combating crime.

"What do you achieve by searching innocent people in the street? This is harassment. How do you send bunches of jobless youth to frisk women and peep into our handbags?

"It is disgusting. I always fight with them [the patrollers] because I don't want to be searched. I am carrying my private stuff in my private handbag.

"What happened to human dignity?"

Jacob van Garderen, national director of Lawyers for Human Rights says he witnessed the "stop and frisk" operation outside his offices along Visagie Street and decided to intervene.

"There is a problem when these so-called community patrollers take over police functions. They are not allowed to stop and search people in an arbitrary manner," says Van Garderen.

"When police officers search people, they have to do it very carefully, not arbitrarily. They cannot just assume a foreigner is a criminal. What I saw is very unacceptable. These people [CPF members] do not have the legal authority to search anyone."

He says aggrieved members of the public can approach his offices to initiate legal recourse.

"Crime prevention prioritises the protection of residents, not to harass them," says Van Garderen.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  crime

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