Hout Bay’s Imizamo Yethu patrollers accused of being vigilantes

2016-10-24 15:04

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Cape Town – Luwinile Zembe remembers, like it was yesterday, how he was almost beaten to death and left naked in the road on November 28, 2015.

Zembe, a security guard, is a resident of Imizamo Yethu, the informal settlement on the slopes of Hout Bay.

Last year, he joined Imizamo Yethu’s community patrol, because he wanted the settlement to become a safer place, where he could raise children.

"All men in the community were asked to join, and because I am a man I joined. At the time it was a good thing. We were escorted by police every night and there was no more crime," Zembe told GroundUp.

Luwinile Zembe was left badly injured
Luwinile Zembe was left badly injured after being beaten by, he says, members of the Imizamo Yethu community patrol. (Image supplied via GroundUp)

More than 100 men took part in the patrols. The problem started, Zembe says, when some of the patrols chased police away and said they did not want to be escorted any more.

"After the police left, the way of doing things changed. One night, I had worked night shift and when I came back I heard rumours that they had killed two people. I went the next day and I saw that it was now a vigilante organisation. Innocent people were being beaten up."

He stopped doing the patrols when patrollers attacked a woman driving with three children one night.

"The woman did nothing. She was just driving. They blocked her car so she could not pass and started hitting the car, throwing stones, until she managed to escape," says Zembe.

The patrollers implemented a 10pm curfew in Imizamo Yethu and target people who are out drinking.

'I thought I was dying'

Zembe says he does not drink. One night, he was home with his friends. Because he has gym equipment in his house, people like to come spend time with him. One person left and shouted from outside the house that the patrollers were coming.

"The people that I was with ran and I was left alone. As I was putting the weights back into the house, I went outside again and the patrollers were standing outside my house," he says.

They asked him what he was doing outside his house at night.

"I told them I am at my house and that I was with friends. I lied to them about why I do not patrol anymore, because I was scared there was one of me and too many of them. When I told them I was tired and had planned to sleep, they said I was being disrespectful."

They started beating him with a whip and sticks.

"I fought for my life, begging them to stop. I was alone. They dragged me to the road and undressed me. They continued to beat me up and I just lay there with no movement. I couldn’t move anymore. I thought I was dying," he says.

He heard the patrollers planning to move him to another place, where it was rumoured they killed two other people. One of the patrollers said he must be left there because he looked dead already. When they left, he crawled behind communal toilets next to the road.

"My neighbours only came out when they left because they were also scared. The worst part is that people had to see me naked. That was embarrassing to me," says Zembe.

On December 1, five days after the ordeal, Zembe went to Imizamo Yethu police and laid a complaint. He went again the next day to see if there had been any progress in the case.

Patrollers still operating

He was told to meet a captain, who told him they do not know who the patrollers are, and he should go [with] a police officer to point them out. Zembe tried to find the ones he knew, but could not.

"In the end I was happy we did not get anyone because that would have put me in more danger. Because they [the police] are lying – they know these people. They support them with radios and torches," says Zembe.

He followed up with police again on December 3. He was told no arrests could be made without him accompanying a police officer to point out suspects. That day the patrollers came to his house and told him to drop the case. They threatened to harm him should he not do so.

He withdrew the complaint the next day, fearing for his life and that of his family.

Nearly a year later, the patrollers are still operating in the community.

GroundUp contacted members of the Solezwe patrols. They kept passing the phone from one member to another, refused to mention their names or answer questions. One individual identified himself as the organisation’s secretary. Asked about the allegations, he said: "I am not going to say it's true or false."

Police spokesperson Constable Noloyiso Rwexana told GroundUp that Zembe's complaint was received and investigated.

"If a complainant was threatened he/she can open a docket of intimidation. If the case was withdrawn by the complainant there will be no further investigation."

Rwexana said every reported case involving the patrollers had been investigated. Meetings were held with patrollers, the community policing forum, and Imizamo Yethu’s "sub-forum", to inform patrollers of their responsibilities.

Read more on:    cape town  |  crime

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