Community-driven anti-looting campaigns prove to be a great success in some areas

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Community members gather on Tuesday before patrolling the streets of Mahikeng against looting. Photo: Thato Senganga Molosankwe/Facebook
Community members gather on Tuesday before patrolling the streets of Mahikeng against looting. Photo: Thato Senganga Molosankwe/Facebook

NEWS


Clad in bright yellow reflector vests, the concerned community members of Mahikeng in the North West stand determined to brave many nights in the biting cold to protect the town’s infrastructure.

Videos circulating on social media have shown community members, armed and unarmed, protecting their areas and infrastructure from being damaged as well as businesses from being looted.

Working together with the police, community members have confronted looters in many areas across the country.

While they work in shifts, some community leaders such as Nhlanhla Lux in Soweto have barely had any sleep in the past few days knowing that looters are lingering in wait for any available chance to pounce on Maponya Mall in Klipspruit, in what would undoubtedly be yet another chaotic scene of theft and damage to property.

Thanks to Lux and others, Maponya Mall, which was officially opened by the late former president Nelson Mandela almost 14 years ago, remains the only unscathed major shopping centre in Soweto after others including Jabulani Mall, Dobsonville Mall and Protea Gardens were cleaned out.

READ: Protea Glen mall in Soweto ransacked to the last item

Lux said they constantly had to chase away those intending to loot in the night and they remained on guard on Wednesday as they had been since the spate of violence carried over from KwaZulu-Natal into Gauteng during the past few days.

They are also constantly listening to reports of looting at other shopping centres.

‘Looters in for a surprise’

In Mahikeng, community leader Thato Molosankwe, who heads the campaign to stall looting, said the police were not allowing them to be on the streets after 8pm due to Covid-19 lockdown regulations and the curfew.

“We are out in the streets during the day and we patrol on foot and cars until 8pm, and leave it all for the police to take over. We are glad that there have been no incidents of looting so far although there were reports of plans to embark on looting which was known to be sponsored by some people earlier this week,” he said.

We are determined to go on until the situation is back to normal to protect our town and surrounding areas. We know that there are people who think we will soon get tired and abandon our campaign and the patrols, but they are in for a surprise. We are in talks with the business community and are considering making it permanent.

Molosankwe said they were supported by businesses, taxi operators, security companies as well as community members and unemployed security guards.

“We are armed with sticks and plastic whips, but we have security companies whose employees are armed and accompany us on patrols. We are not going to allow our communities to emulate the bad things that they see on television in the name of [former president] Jacob Zuma, whom we believe handed himself over because he wanted to see no bloodshed, looting and damage to any property in his name,” he said.

The majority of businesses were open in Mahikeng on Wednesday after almost the whole town shut down on Monday and only half of its establishments opened on Tuesday following threats of looting.

‘In Soweto, no one is better than the other’

In Pimville, Lux was seen on SABC News earlier on Wednesday emphasising their intention to protect infrastructure targeted by looters and telling those who had gathered near Maponya Mall that he was going back inside with his “gun ready to continue working” before he introduced State Security Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa.

Lux’s message to those intending to continue looting in Soweto was clear:

Whether you’re from prison, exile, from hostels, whether you are Zulu, Sotho or Venda, we really don’t care. In Soweto, no one is better than the other ... Soweto is home for all Africans and everyone must be law-abiding. It doesn’t matter where you come from.

Lux said among the challenges they had observed was the limited capacity of law enforcement agencies.

“The police and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police are underequipped and limited in dealing with looting. The police need to decentralise its approach and start working with people on the ground to defend their communities so that law enforcement can become proactive instead of reactionary,” he said.

Lux said the other problem was that of “the infiltration of our communities by outside forces and agendas”.

“Looting is not led by the community. No one in our community wakes up and just loots. Looting is not by chance, it is an organised crime,” he said.

“There’ll always be a bus, a truck or a minibus that comes with people we don’t know and they break into shops and we just follow because we reason with our stomachs.”

“We can’t allow people from outside our communities to continue to cause violence and terror in our communities and instead of defending our communities, women and children, we all join in the chaos.”

“... Eighty percent of looters in Soweto are youth under the age of 21 who don’t know much about Zuma, which proves the disconnect between the [Free Zuma campaign] and the looting itself.”

Lux said they were prepared to lock horns with looters.

“We will match the looters pound for pound ... If they come wielding pangas, we will pull out ours and if they come to shoot and kill our people, we will also do that within the boundaries of the law ... We do not fear death, our communities come first,” he said.

“The traditional solutions against crime in our communities remain [in place]; the whistles, cameras and phones must be on standby to report and record looting so that law enforcement agencies can have the necessary intelligence to deal with the looters.”

Kodwa: We will all know the people behind this

Addressing the community near Maponya Mall on Wednesday, Kodwa said at the end of the current mayhem “the truth shall come out and we will know who were the people behind all this ... Very soon we will know them.”

READ: Are former state security agents linked to Zuma instigating the violence?

“Those who are behind this anarchy are not the people who are looting. People’s conditions, especially those who are unemployed and particularly the youth are [being] used. There are people who we are investigating ... They are the people we know are planning this whole thing,” Kodwa said.

He encouraged communities against being influenced to partake in looting.

“When the people of Pimville, Jabulani, Mamelodi, Umlazi and other areas say let’s go and loot, say to them: ‘Andizi [I am not coming]’. Our people are going to struggle tomorrow ... They will wake up and there will be no bread, no petrol and no paraffin ... We must refuse to loot and damage our property.”

READ: Tembisa community use their bodies as shields to protect mall from looters

Speaking to the media earlier on Wednesday during his visit to Mams Mall in Mamelodi, Pretoria, where swift reaction by private security, police and community members reportedly averted the worst when looters were stopped moments after they had started last night, police minister, Bheki Cele, likened what was happening in parts of the country to “organised gangsterism”, adding that “there were big elements of organised criminality around this”.

Acting Gauteng police commissioner Major General Tommy Mthombeni said 586 people had been arrested in the province by Wednesday morning, among them “two police officers arrested at Norkem Park on Tuesday”.

Mthombeni said they detained the officers to send a message to the police service that “we can’t have our own assisting criminals in stealing”.


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Poloko Tau 

Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
poloko.tau@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
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