Freeways for criminals

2017-03-24 14:32
Mount View Residents Against Crime members Nishwan Suresh and Sue Trytsman inspect the railway line near Woodpecker Road in Northdale on Thursday..

Mount View Residents Against Crime members Nishwan Suresh and Sue Trytsman inspect the railway line near Woodpecker Road in Northdale on Thursday.. (Ian Carbutt)

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Railway lines have become freeways for criminals and Pietermaritzburg communities say they are fed up with the situation.

Mount View residents held a community meeting with Transnet and the local SAPS on Wednesday to address the issue.

Ward councillor Claudell Chetty said crime was rife in the area due to the lack of security and poor maintenance on the railway line.

“The residents feel they are not safe in their homes, driveways, and even walking on the road. They are being robbed of their cellphones, bags, and attempted hijackings have also occurred in the area. In the space of two weeks a resident had two house break-ins,” said Chetty.

Chetty said the meeting with Transnet was, however, fruitful and the rail company promised to address security concerns on the railway line in their next financial year.

A resident, Navi Philips, who has lived in the area for 20 years, said the situation has “hugely impacted” his family life. “This is affecting our lifestyles as community members. We now have to constantly be on guard when we walk on the street and we are afraid when we leave our houses during the day to go to work,” he said.

The chairperson of the Mount View Residents Against Crime forum, Nishwan Suresh, said it was time Transnet took responsibility for the railway line in the area.

“The relationship that we have had with Transnet is like having a bad neighbour. We always have to prompt them to maintain the railway line. And after that they neglect it for another year,” said Suresh.

Another group of residentsin Northdale are taking the issue into their own hands. The Residents Combating Crime group was founded by brothers Anesh and Kaveer Singh and has 15 teams of trained men aged 23 years and older. The teams patrol Pietermaritzburg areas and arrest criminals before surrendering them to the police.

A former Navy man and firearm training officer, Anesh Singh said the high crime rate time in the area is noon to 4 pm.

“We have had numerous arrests during these time periods in areas near railway stations. My brother and I once arrested a 17-year-old boy who was found to have committed 12 armed robberies and housebreakings,” said Singh.

“We work hand in hand with the police, but we have found that the police often lack resources. They might have the staff to carry out the work but have not had vehicles to go and make arrests. This is why we come in and arrest criminals and hand them over to them,” said Singh.

In Prestbury, community crime watch groups there have also raised concerns about the railway line through that suburb.

Russell George of the Prestbury Crime Watch said the railway line there “is a problem all round”.

“I have been begging Transnet to fence the railway line for a while. It’s a problem in terms of safety and security. There is no maintenance and the grass grows so high, making it a good place for criminals to hide,” he said.

“Criminals also use it as an escape route. If we chase someone in the neighbourhood, once they are on the railway line, they’re gone.

“Children take shortcuts across the railway line and sometimes small children run towards the trains to wave at them. It is so dangerous. A youngster was recently bumped by a train because he was walking home on the railway line. He had headphones on and didn’t hear it coming.”

George added that railway lines have also become a dumping spot for rubbish and garden refuse.

Police spokesperson Mthokozisi Ngobese said high crime in areas near railway lines was a problem throughout Pietermaritzburg. “Railway lines are usually covered up by thick bushes presenting a blind spot for criminals to hide and inspect the movements in neighbourhoods close to them,” said Ngobese.

“We need to embark on a joint programme with crime prevention services and Transnet to come up with solutions for this issue and clean them up so that criminals can stop using them to commit crime.”

Transnet spokesperson Sandile Gabuza said the company was investigating the matter. “The issue is currently under investigation by Transnet security together with SAPS. We will only be able to provide answers once the investigation has run its course,” he said.


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