PICS | 'We are gatvol': Residents in Cape Town suburb build wall to curb crime

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The illegal wall that's been erected.
The illegal wall that's been erected.
  • Residents of Elsies River in Cape Town have put up an illegal wall in a desperate bid to curb crime.
  • But the City of Cape Town said erecting a wall without permission on City land is not allowed.
  • Locals erected the wall without applying to the City.

"We are more than gatvol of these criminals robbing and stoning our people"

So said residents of Elsies River in Cape Town who have rallied together to build a wall on a vacant piece of land in Southern Cross Street, much to the City of Cape Town's disapproval.

This in a desperate bid to keep criminals out of their neighbourhood.

The 2.3m high, nearly 20m long grey face-brick wall was erected last weekend after numerous emails and letters pleading for assistance to close off the vacant plot were allegedly ignored by the City and local ward councillor Christopher Jordaan.

Speaking to News24, community activist Gail Swanepoel said residents have been writing to the City since 2019 as attacks, particularly people being pelted with stones, have "gotten out of hand".

"Youngsters are using that vacant piece of land to hide away so when residents need to cross that street to get public transport, walk to nearby shops or homes, these criminals use it as an opportunity to target, stone, and rob them of their personal belongings," Swanepoel added.

She said after numerous attempts to get the City to intervene, they decided to come together as a community to put the wall up themselves. 

"The City has failed to intervene when we needed them to. We have tried over the years to engage with the City, and over the past four years the situation has worsened.

"Now when we as a community try to do something about our safety, then the City is quick to send law enforcement out to us," Swanepoel added.

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Resident Chantal van den Heever, 32, said she was one of the many people who fell victim to criminality in the vacant alleyway. 

"My friends had waited for me to get out of the taxi to walk me home because of the dangerous area. I got out of the taxi and four guys walked up to us pointing guns and demanded we lay on the ground before stealing all our belongings and running away through the alley," Van den Heever added. 

Elsies River
Residents building the wall.

She said she was robbed numerous times in the area and all she could do was just hand over what they demanded.

"It's me against a man with a gun and I feared for my life, so I had to give it off. That open space is very dangerous, and thugs are using it as a quick getaway after robbing people. I feel the passage must be closed immediately to prevent these ongoing crimes," Van der Heever added. 

According to Swanepoel, a community petition garnered more than 500 signatures to have the space closed down permanently but yet again they received no response from the City. 

In a hard-hitting three-page letter sent to the City on Monday, which News24 has seen, residents highlighted their grievances, begging and pleading the City to intervene.

Residents have resorted to put up an illegal wall on an open space which they say criminals are using to commit crime.

"The alleyway that we are currently building a wall is the most problematic one. We have children from Epping Forest and Salberau using the street [Southern Cross Street] adjacent to the alleyway as a battleground, throwing stones and bottles at each other.

"On every single occasion, we have to call SAPS to disperse them, unfortunately, they always arrive after we as community members managed to get them to stop and at the same time [putting] our [own] lives in danger. The only way these kids [will] stop is when we come out with our dogs," the letter stated.

The City said building on land that belonged to it was not allowed.

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Last Sunday, law enforcement descended on the scene to engage residents.

"[Residents] indicated they would apply to have the wall remain and no further action will be taken, pending the outcome of the aforementioned application," its spokesperson, Wayne Dyson, said.

Jordaan said he was aware of the wall and had told residents to go the right route by applying to the City. 

"I agree that crime in the area is becoming a concern but no one in the city can do things lawlessly in Cape Town, any person who wants to put up a particular wall must do so on an application.

"I was on the scene when the residents started building the wall on Friday and I advised them that the wall they are putting up is illegal and it must stop," he added. Jordaan said had the residents followed the proper route of applying to have the wall erected, he would have gladly assisted them in filling out the forms.

"As the ward councillor, I cannot allow this illegal wall to be put up, it's not right. I cannot confirm if the wall will be demolished but I am aware that the decision is laying with the City's property department," he added.

The wall that has been built by Elsies River residents.

Community policing forum (CPF) chairperson Hamish Arries said they were aware of the wall that was built in a "red-zone area".

"The ally has been a gateway for criminals over many years. The local police and CPF members had numerous complaints about housebreaking, robberies, and smash-and-grabs where this ally was the escape route.

"Police vehicles, unfortunately, cannot drive through this ally and our neighbourhood watch patrollers have their hands full with criminal activities happening in the ally," Arries added. 

He said he was informed the City did not approve of the wall being erected but respected residents for meeting regularly and standing together in safeguarding their community.

"My plea to the City leadership is to listen to the plight of the community and give guidance with closing alleys and walkways that pose safety threats in our community.

"Ratepayers have a right to protect themselves and their , hence my call to the City Leadership to reach out to them and give guidance with the closing of any ally that poses a threat and breeding ground for crime," Arries added.

The CPF said communities were in a vice-grip of criminality and the wall was proof many were desperate to safeguard themselves. 

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