One murder reported in Bonteheuwel in July, after 44 the previous six months

Members of the Bonteheuwel Neighbourhood Safety Team search a man. (Supplied)
Members of the Bonteheuwel Neighbourhood Safety Team search a man. (Supplied)

*This article has been corrected to reflect that there was at least one murder reported in Bonteheuwel in July, and not none, as was previously reported.

Gang battles and bullets saw 44 people killed in six months in one Cape Flats suburb.

But since the beginning of July, the area has seen the number of gang casualties brought down from an average of seven murders to one.

A new city initiative combined with community-driven efforts have contributed to the declining murder rate in the suburb.

One of those includes the deployment of 100 law enforcement officers to the streets for visible patrols.

Launched on July 2, the Neighbourhood Safety Team focuses on enforcement interventions including stop-and-search operations, visible patrols and vehicle checkpoints.

These law enforcement officers work in shifts in Bonteheuwel and surrounds. The establishment of the team was aimed at curbing anti-social behaviour and assisting in the enforcement of by-laws.

Ward councillor Angus McKenzie believes it is the officers' high visibility that make gangsters think twice about opening fire.

Bonteheuwel, about 15km from the city centre, is serviced by the Bishop Lavis police station and is one of the most overburdened precincts in Cape Town, McKenzie says.

"It's an area that is home to about 85 000 people, but doesn't have a police station of its own. What it comes down to is that there is one policeman for every 10 000 residents in this precinct."

McKenzie says their constant presence in the streets has resulted in the rebuilding of confidence between authorities and residents.

The project is funded by the ward’s allocation as well as the mayor's adjustment budget.

'Trust deficit'

Henrietta Abrahams, chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Development Forum, believed the drastic reduction in the murder rate was owing to a combination of reasons.

These include the reorganizing of street committees and other community-based safety networks who give their time and effort to fight crime without remuneration.

Both the army and the neighbourhood safety team were deployed in the area the same month, she pointed out. The army was deployed 16 days after the unit's launch on July 18 however.

Since the decrease in murders, Abrahams said there had been a marked increase in robberies.

But instead of being armed with guns, knives have become the weapon of choice.

She said community safety should not be politicised with municipal-led authorities playing up against the police with which safety structures were trying to repair a "trust deficit".

Working with police

Community organization has proven themselves in the fight against crime, said Nadia Mayman De Grass of the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum, one of the organisers of the Bonteheuwel shutdown which saw locals protesting against rampant gang violence and crime.

Their local safety structures met every two weeks with the Bishop Lavis police to discuss trends and action, she said.

Efforts were also made by churches and organizations to target youth at risk and those already involved in gangsterism and show them more positive alternatives such as sport and development programmes, De Grass told News24.

"Quite frankly, I don't know what the neighbourhood safety team does as I only see them from time to time. I can't confirm or deny their impact," she said.

Arrests, confiscations

McKenzie says the neighbourhood safety team's presence has resulted in regular tip-offs and valuable information being received from residents who act as their eyes and ears on the ground.

"We have seen over 60 arrests, various guns confiscated, a huge amount of drugs removed and complete suppression of gun-related violence - and this is just the beginning," McKenzie says.

The team works around the clock and is equally spread across the area, working a day and night shift.

In order to avoid familiarity between the officers and residents, the team is periodically rotated.

Although based at the local civic centre, the officers will hardly ever be found there as they conduct foot patrols almost around the clock.

SANDF deployment

The Bishop Lavis precinct is one of the 10 most gang-ridden areas in Cape Town, which has contributed to 42% of attempted murders in the province.

Members of the South African National Defence Force have been deployed for three months to assist the police in stemming the killing in the area as well as in Mitchells Plain, Delft, Elsies River, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, Philippi, Kraaifontein and Manenberg.

In the past two weeks since the deployment, McKenzie says he has seen the army in Bonteheuwel only twice.

In action in Loganberry Street. (Supplied)
In action on Loganberry Street. (Supplied)

"They have just acted like a security guard service for the police, tailing them in the area. What has caused the big change has been our visible policing. Our team isn't driving around. They are walking and interacting. That is what speaks to the community."

Having a "bobby on the beat" also means criminals are less likely to commit an offence knowing the authorities could be where they are within two minutes, McKenzie says.

"They are aware that an officer is probably literally around the corner."

He called for strong police and prosecution work in the area to secure meaningful prosecutions in the area.

Western Cape Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz has commended the team's successes, saying initiatives like these are essential in combating crime and gangsterism. 

One murder reported

Western Cape police confirmed that a murder case was opened following a shooting in Loganberry Street on July 12.

"According to reports police members attached to Bishop Lavis [police station] attended to the scene at the mentioned address and found a man aged 58 shot and fatally wounded and he died on the scene due to his injuries."

No arrests have been made.

Responding to the new information and claims that he had lied about the statistics, McKenzie said: "I was not aware of this murder. It would appear to be an isolated incident which will not tarnish Bonteheuwel's most peaceful month in years.”

He received his statistics from City of Cape Town law enforcement and Community Policing Forums, he said.

Western Cape police said that due to a national moratorium, crime statistics cannot be released outside the annual release of crime statistics.

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