'We need each other,' pleads Western Cape police boss at emotional community meeting on crime

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  • It was a chance to have their say on crime, and residents of Manenberg and Gugulethu took full advantage of it at a charged meeting on Monday night.
  • They pleaded for the payment of community policing volunteers who patrol at night to help keep residents safe.
  • Many of the residents said they were tired of community meetings and wanted action against crime from the government.

A highly charged meeting between the communities of Manenberg, Heideveld, Tambo Village and Gugulethu in Cape Town revealed the anger and frustration of residents reeling from relentless crime.

"Don't come and sit here and write something, and we don't see action," said one of the people who stepped forward to speak at a school hall on Monday night.

"Today, there is the imbizo, and you will see the vans every five minutes or so, but in two weeks there will be none," she said.

The hall was packed, with people queueing up at the microphone to speak their minds to the deputy ministers of police Cassel Mathale, land reform Mcebisi Skwatsha, and high-ranking police officers, including Western Cape police commissioner Thembisile Patekile.

It quickly became clear that the residents were not there to listen to platitudes. This was their chance to air bottled-up grievances.

The central themes were that people want stipends, at the very least, to be paid to the volunteers of the community police forum and neighbourhood watches and that crime, gender-based violence and gangsterism must be dealt with.

"When you guys came in here, you had a full entourage, heavily armed and everything," said Yusuf Hope, who described himself as an activist in Manenberg.

He added:

I want to invite you guys after this meeting, come with me and walk through Manenberg, without your securities, because that is what we need to do, what our kids need to do.

Manenberg is reeling from a spate of murders, with at least five people shot dead over the weekend. 

READ | Eight killed in three days, as gang violence flares up in Manenberg, Western Cape

One after the other, the residents pleaded for more support from the police.

"It's almost like the police are afraid of the gangs," said Dudley August, who asked why the police did not have undercover agents among the gangs.

"The problem in our community is [that] people live in continuous trauma," said Jonathan Jansen, from Manenberg Sector 1 community policing.

Two residents complained that there were not enough Afrikaans-speaking police officers in Manenberg and Heideveld, and race reared its head a few times, with one complaint that black officers were placed in coloured neighbourhoods.

"We are not black. It's got nothing to do with politics. It is our community. We need more people of our own," said Belinda Pietersen.

A woman speaking isiXhosa lashed out when people started talking over her, saying: "We were listening to you when you speak your language. Nobody can tell me what language I must speak here."

One woman brought the hall to complete silence as she questioned why police or the courts had made no progress following a horrific attack on her in a taxi.

A mother stood up to chide parents who ignored the failings of their children who were involved in crime.

Vanessa Arendse, deputy chair of the Manenberg community policing forum, said: "We have lost faith in all these imbizos. You guys come, and you guys leave."

"Julle het nie liefde vir mekaar nie (You don't love each other)," said one woman who described herself as a drug addict to the residents.

Strutting up and down in front of the panel as the programme director battled to keep things under control, she pointed at the deputy ministers and the police and said: "You, sort out your department."

In reply, Patekile urged people not to be divisive over language and race.

"We need each other. We need each other," said Patekile.

"It is not a matter of railway lines dividing the languages. Ek leer jou taal, jy moet my taal begin leer. (I learnt your language, you must start learning my language)," he added.

He said people had a right to speak up if they felt they were not being understood at a police station.

He rejected a suggestion that the placement of police officers was done by race in particular areas.

"We must not say, 'He must be that colour'. It does not work like that. We were all born here," said Patekile.

Skwatsha told the residents his car had been stolen from outside his house in Gugulethu two years ago, and his son had his phone stolen.

He asked residents to report any police officers not doing their job properly. He said that as a deputy minister, he did not always have a chauffeur, so he gets to drive himself and see things first hand.

Mathale assured residents that the meeting was "not a talk shop".

He said that apartheid was deliberate and was costing the country dearly.

People had to perform miracles to eke out a living, and some people turned to crime to do this.

"Stop working against your own people," said Mathale.

He gave the residents his number and added: "But this number is not a number that you call at 1am when you sit with your friends to show you are connected."

"I don't pay for the airtime here. It's paid by yourself, so I must give [it to] you... so that we work better."

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