Call for neighbourhood watches

2020-04-16 14:30
By Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash.

By Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash.

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2020-03-25 17:06

Members of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster will provide updates on the nationwide lockdown, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, at 17:00.WATCH

Athlone and Clarendon residents are worried following news that criminals have been deliberately cutting streetlight cables, while three Msunduzi councillors have called for an amendment to regulations to declare neighbourhood watch patrols an essential service so that they can continue fighting crime in their communities.

Rowan White, the chairperson of the Clarendon Community Association, told The Witness that he was told by electricians who were fixing streetlights in Montgomery Drive that criminals were targeting the main streetlight electrical feeds in different areas in Pietermaritzburg. “Apparently they have been cutting the main lines. Whether they are doing this to target areas, I’m not sure, but I am thinking that the modus operandi is to disable streetlights to break into homes in the cover of darkness.”

White said he sent out a letter to different Town Hill CPF groups, urging them to notify residents who live near these main electrical feeds to be super vigilant for any suspicious activities.

Town Hill CPF chairperson Megan Nicol said residents in her area reported that the streetlights were working fine before the lockdown until someone tampered with them. She said residents said they saw a vehicle driving in the area and people tampering with the electrical cables and since then the streetlights haven’t been working. She said there have been numerous break-ins in the area.

“So now community members are putting money together and are paying registered security guards to do foot patrols in the area,” said Nicol.

Msunduzi Municipality spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha told The Witness that their electricity sub unit had received complaints about streetlights cables that were vandalised in Roberts and Gloucester roads in the Clarendon area on Tuesday.

She said the electricity unit immediately attended to fix the damage on the same day and lights were confirmed to be working again on Wednesday. “Vandalism of electricity infrastructure is a countrywide problem and the Msunduzi Municipality is also affected by this problem.”

Mafumbatha added that the electricity unit’s contractors were still in the area on Wednesday fixing lights in other nearby roads that were not functional due to various technical issues.

And as concerns over crime grow during the lockdown, three Msunduzi councillors are calling for an amendment to regulations to declare neighbourhood watch patrols an essential service so that they can continue fighting crime in their communities. This would require government to reconsider its withdrawal of the initial permission granted for volunteer neighbourhood watch members to continue patrolling in their areas during lockdown. Ward 33’s Suraya Reddy, Vic Winterbach of Ward 36 and Sandy Lyne of Ward 37 have written to the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Bheki Ntuli, requesting his intervention in the matter. This comes as residents’ fears mount that criminals might take advantage of the absence of patrols and invade people’s homes.

In the letter to Ntuli, the councillors concede that the withdrawal of permission was for the health and safety of members, but say they are concerned about the “spike” in crime in their areas.

They also acknowledge the urgent need to comply with the precautionary measures instituted to combat and prevent the spread of Covid-19.

However, they say they have since been approached by neighbourhood watch groups, residents and ratepayers associations and concerned individuals in their wards asking for urgent intervention in seeking the re-instatement of the permission for neighbourhood watch patrols to operate.

“Since the cessation of community patrols, the incidence of crime has spiked to an alarming degree in our local neighbourhoods — as attested to by residents at the receiving end and borne out by reported statistical data. Allowing the return of local neighbourhood patrols will undoubtedly assist in safeguarding our neighbourhoods in continuing to serve as a visible deterrent to any would-be criminals,” read the letter.

If allowed to return during the lockdown, the councillors said the volunteer neighbourhood watches will continue to operate under the CPF. They said the members have agreed to operate patrols with due regard to health and safety in terms of the lockdown regulations, including distancing and the wearing of protective masks.

The councillors believe the patrols could also be invaluable in helping to ensure that lockdown rules are observed in their local neighbourhoods. On Wednesday, KZN Department of Community Safety and Liaison spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said Ntuli will take the councillors’ recommendation to the provincial command for its consideration.

“We consider neighbourhood watches and other community crime fighting structures as critical in fighting crime around the province. The only challenge ... is the issue of accreditation and legitimacy because we would not want to have a situation where we have a mushrooming of neighbourhood watches.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  lockdown crime
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