Patrolling Mountain Rise

2008-03-26 00:00

Mountain Rise, the name says it all — prosperity and ambition. But Mountain Rise is not on top of a mountain and it’s encircled by vulnerability, poverty and opportunism. It is for this reason that many residents have put their trust in a private security company, Combat Mountain Rise.

“I feel safe knowing we have a security company that is always around for us,” says resident Devesh Singh. “It’s safe here and people lead a good lifestyle. You always see people walking or jogging or playing in the park. It’s a good place to be.”

Mechanic and Muslim moulana Iqbal Variawa says his business is far more secure now. “It works for all of us. Crime has definitely dropped and I don’t have any more break-ins,” says Variawa. “The security officers even drop off children from school in the day and they help any resident who feels vulnerable when entering his or her home.”

Crime in Mountain Rise, according to authorities, has always been low in relation to other areas of Mountain Rise Police Station’s jurisdiction. For the SAPS and the Community Policing Forum (CPF), having a private company to beef up security in the suburb helps them justify deploying more police officers to disadvantaged areas.

Mountain Rise was previously a white area before apartheid. Under the Group Areas Act, the suburb was earmarked for the Indian population, along with Northdale and adjoining suburbs. According to CPF chairman Peter Jugmohan, the municipality at the time deceived wealthy Indians into buying property in Mountain Rise.

“There was wind of factories being built in the area, so the whites moved out,” he says. “It was promoted as a place for wealthy Indians to move to as it was close to the city and had good amenities, but they didn’t realise what they were in for.”

Now, Mountain Rise is being strangled by a noose comprised of a busy ring road, factories, shopping centres and informal settlements. Within the noose lies the suburb of sprawling mansions with sparkling fountains. It looks very pretty, but it needs protection.

Goolam Dawad is the owner of Combat Mountain Rise, a two-year-old, multi-faceted security company dedicated to the suburb and operated by professionally trained security personnel. It is accommodated on a local residential property, and Dawad can keep watch over Mountain Rise in a high-security room. “I don’t normally allow anyone in here,” he says. “From here we are able to monitor the vehicle and foot patrols as well as houses that subscribe to our armed response service.”

Dawad is an ex-policeman with 18 years of police service. His training methods for his security personnel are clearly rubbing off. “I have trained recruits on their responsibilities and respect for the community as well as military training,” he says.

Dawad employs 26 people as vehicle patrol officers, who split their working hours on a 12-hour rotation basis. A further three guards during the day and four at night are employed to conduct foot patrols in Coronet Place, an isolated and exclusive area in Mountain Rise.

Abdool Essa lives in Coronet Place and has been active in crime prevention in his area since 2002. “We were having endless problems with break-ins, theft and trespassing,” he says. “One night they broke in when my mother was asleep, which made me angry. I signed up five houses in my cul-de-sac to pay for a security company to do foot patrols and over the years more residents joined up.”

Essa recently began having problems with the guards he was hiring so he entered into an agreement with Dawad to sign up with his company, as long as it provided foot patrols. “Back-Up Security [Combat’s new name when its registration is finalised] recently implemented alarm monitoring and because they are dedicated to our area the response is very fast,” he says.

Mountain Rise SAPS Superintendent Boxer Pillay is concerned by the perception that private security companies have reduced crime rates in the area because the police were previously not doing their jobs properly. He said currently fewer police officers are patrolling areas with crime prevention initiatives, but when they were not in place SAPS officers did patrol and crime in the area was sufficiently stable.

“We applaud neighbourhood watch programmes and private security companies, because they allow us to deploy more members to disadvantaged communities,” he says. Pillay says the SAPS works well with crime prevention initiatives. “We have a security officers’ forum that meets every three months in which we share information about problem areas as well as improved strategies. They are our eyes and ears in the community,” he says. “They know they can rely on the police for back-up if ever a situation becomes dangerous.”

A concern raised is that private security companies will always see their customers as being right, making any other party a possible victim of discrimination. Patrolling with Combat Mountain Rise, I noticed how anyone who didn’t appear to be a resident of the suburb was questioned and, if found to have no business in the area, was asked to leave immediately.

“Securing communities is about securing the people in that community, that’s all,” Henri Boshoff, a military analyst for the Institute of Security Studies, says. “Unfortunately, we do not stay in a normal peaceful society and people have to take extreme measures to protect themselves because the police do not have the capacity to do so.”

Because the informal settlements are made up of mostly black residents, accusations of racism and discrimination could emerge. “We must be careful not to be gatekeepers of race,” says Jugmohan. “It would be a sad day in our democracy when people are kept out because of skin colour. Crime knows no colour.”

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