Plucky pensioner, 76, patrols Mitchells Plain's crime-ridden streets

2017-02-21 12:42

Cape Town – Dressed in her floral shirt and comfortable sandals, there is nothing intimidating about pint-sized Wilhelmina Minnaar.

But when she dons her reflective jacket and takes to the streets before sunrise and after dark, even hardened gangsters think twice before committing crimes on her watch.

At 76, Aunty Miena, as she is known, is one of the oldest neighbourhood watch volunteers in Mitchells Plain.

She suffers from arthritis, high blood pressure and water retention, but has nevertheless been on patrol for the past 10 years, volunteering almost all of her free time to make the streets of Eastridge safer.

Armed with only a torch, she hits the pavements at 04:30 every day with neighbours Margaret Wolhuter, 65, and Elizabeth Jacobs, 66, on the lookout for opportunistic criminals preying on commuters making their way to work at bus stops and taxi pick-up points.


Margaret Wolhuter, 65, Wilhelmina Minnaar, 76, and Elizabeth Jacobs, 66, on patrol in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

She lives in an area known as 'Die Dieretuin', one of the most gang-ridden parts of Mitchells Plain.

"We know these streets. These are our neighbours and this is our community. I do what I can to make it safe," the great-grandmother says, patting her lime green uniform.

"I believe in standing up for what is right. It’s easy to complain from the comfort of your home, but what are you doing about it?"

'I’m not here to be popular'

Fed up with gang shootings and rampant crime, she was one of the first volunteers to sign up when the Eastridge Neighbourhood Watch was established 11 years ago.

She is trained in preserving a crime scene, crowd control, and believes she is perfectly capable of defending herself.

When the three pensioners are on patrol, locals greet them with a wave.

Others, such as young people making their way to an alleged drug house or schoolchildren puffing on cigarettes, run in the opposite direction.

"I’m not here to be popular," the feisty gran says.

"It’s my role to serve and protect and I take that responsibility seriously. Some people tell us to mind our own business, but I don’t pay attention to them. When they’re victims of crime, they know where to run – to my door."

Robbers and petty thieves are early risers and opportunistic, and the presence of the patrollers is enough to make criminals think twice before striking, Jacobs explains.

Comforting presence

After the morning peak and ensuring that truant pupils are at school where they belong, the women head home to do their "household duties", before grabbing their pillows to allow them to be comfortable while they keep watch from their vantage point – a nearby bus stop.

Richard Arendse, 42, who commutes by bus, says the "fearless aunties" have reduced the number of robberies committed in the surrounding streets.

"I am a grown man, but believe me, even I won't take these nightwalker, tik addicts on. But our patrollers are no-nonsense, straight-talking crime fighters who are afraid of nothing and no one," he says.

"Everybody knows who they are. Their presence alone is comforting. If something should happen, I would rather approach them than the police. They are local heroes."

Local children say they "don't mess" with the patrollers.

"They tell us to go to school or they are going to tell our parents and the police. We don't say anything back or we get a talking to," one teenager says.

Minnaar has in the past confronted drug dealers, warning them to "stop their nonsense".

'Thankless job'

"You have to have passion to do this; it’s a thankless job. But I don’t mind because this is not about money. It’s about making sure that when the children play in the street, they don’t have to dodge bullets or be too scared to walk to the shop. These are our streets – we shouldn’t be held hostage."

The patrollers have many times been caught in gang crossfire, but miraculously have never been hit.

Minnaar has seen things she says she would much rather forget.

"On my birthday in January, we were summoned to control and secure the scene of a shooting where two people had been gunned down. It was a terrible thing to see them lying there, dead. They were still so young," she recalls, shaking her head.

"These things get to me, no matter how many times I see it. It’s so much worse when the face being covered is one you know, someone who grew up in front of you."

Before her health took a dip, Minnaar was an active participant in sweeps, securing and monitoring the scenes while police made arrests.

"Yes, not too long ago I could jump onto the police vehicles during operations, but with these knees, those days are over. That doesn’t mean I can’t still do my bit to stop the nonsense happening on our doorstep."

Minnaar’s only child, Carol, has long accepted that her mother isn’t the type to take up knitting or gardening in her old age.

"This is who she is. She is passionate about safety and it keeps her moving," she says.

Minnaar believes she still has many kilometres left and doesn’t plan on hanging up her reflector jacket any time soon.

"This is what I love doing. I even tried the arts and crafts club, but that wasn’t my thing," she says with a laugh.

Read more on:    cape town  |  community  |  good news

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