'We know how dangerous this place is' - says Philippi resident during police operation

2019-07-12 20:09
(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

(Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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It is 03:30 in Philippi East. It is cold and the road is wet from the light showers that fell an hour earlier. It is also very dark, pitch black in some corners because of the sparse street lighting, GroundUp reports.

One of the tall masts used to light up the township is completely dead. It is quiet and calm. If you did not know any better, you would say it is peaceful. And then the banging starts. "Police! Open the door!"

In this early morning crime prevention operation, it looks like hundreds of police officers are patrolling Philippi East in search of criminals. Western Cape police described it as a "lockdown search and seizure operation" in a tweet.

Officers carrying assault rifles and torches are split into groups spread throughout the township.

Much banging accompanies the officers' shouting for doors to be opened.

Dogs belonging to the residents begin barking in unison (there are police dogs too). It sometimes takes a while for residents to open up.

An officer can be heard reassuring a resident that they really are the police.

Last weekend, 11 people were murdered in this informal settlement: six women and five men were found shot dead. Police Minister Bheki Cele has since visited, promising action.

In meetings with him, residents have demanded more policing.

Philippi East is one of many areas in Cape Town dealing with a serious gangster problem. Since November 2018, more than 2 300 people have been murdered in the Western Cape.

On Thursday, Cele announced that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) would be deployed to Western Cape crime hot spots. The SANDF was not present during Friday morning's operation though; it is expected to be deployed as soon as the paperwork is cleared.

News24 has listed areas where the SANDF will be deployed.

READ: This is where the army will be deployed in Cape Town

As the night moved on, the police searched residents in pyjamas and underwear. Some residents stood outside their homes with their hands tightly around their waists, shivering from the cold.

"How many are you?" an officer asked insistently, while another searched a different home lifting mattresses, opening cupboards and pots. Closets and shoes were rummaged through.

Some of the homes searched belong to backyarders living in one-bedroom shacks. A woman lies in bed while the police question her partner. One officer lifts a roof of a shack to peek through while another tries to kick a door open.

"We are so scared because we know how dangerous this place is," said a woman whose house was searched. She asked not to be named. She said she was a security guard and only gets home at 01:00.

Her daughter and husband are now also awake at 04:17. When she first heard the knocking, she thought it was gangsters.

She is okay with the police raiding her home, but she said they should knock nicely. "It's for our safety," she added while a police officer stood close by listening to our conversation.

Attempts to speak to two other residents were unsuccessful.

It is unclear if the police had warrants or another form of legal authority to conduct the raids.

police raid, philippi east

Police searched homes in Philippi East. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

As daylight approached, vehicles started to make their way onto the streets, still in the dark. Minibus taxis were now being searched. One driver and about six of his passengers were asked to step out and put their hands on the vehicle.

They were all searched and released.

Because of the large area covered by the operation, it is unclear if any arrests were made. The police had not responded to our questions by time of publication.

"The current situation is unprecedented, and we need to take unprecedented steps to ensure that people are safe," said Western Cape premier Alan Winde.

In a statement, Winde welcomed the deployment of the SANDF. "Last weekend alone, 55 deaths by gunshot or stabbing were recorded in the province," he said.

Winde added the "SANDF has been authorised to observe, cordon off and search, conduct vehicle and foot patrols, and provide air support, which will also help to identify drug manufacturing labs".

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Read more on:    cape town  |  police
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