By Tauhierah Salie
The City of Cape Town said an investigation is underway to determine the “root cause” of streetlights being off in what have become criminal hotspots. It comes as the Westgate Neighbourhood Watch in Mitchells Plain raised concern over an increase in motorists being attacked along Jakes Gerwel drive at night.
The road, off the R300, has become notorious for smash-and-grabs and car hijackings and borders areas including Bonteheuwel, Langa and Mitchells Plain. The NHW group started an online petition calling on Cape Town mayor Dan Plato to remedy the situation.
Co-ordinator Riedwaan Nero spoke to VOC’s Breakfast show on Monday and explained that the lights have been off since March 2020. Nero said there is particular concern that residents, especially women, become targets when returning home from work in the dark. He added that many are often “traumatised”.
Rocks or stones are often used by criminals to distract drivers or cause them to stop, which Nero said, has even resulted in cars “rolling over”. The co-ordinator explained that ongoing construction in the area makes materials accessible to criminals.
“The construction guys don’t clear up they’ve done their things. So, it makes so much easier (for) guys to pick up the concrete and move it into the road,” he said.
The City’s mayco member for Safety and Security Alderman JP Smith, vandalism has been one of the biggest challenges restoring electricity to the area.
“The problem with the streetlights is that there has been extensive and continuous vandalism of those street lights by the community, primarily by Siqalo. We have made quite a lot of arrests. Its not for lack of trying to protect the infrastructure but, unfortunately, (its) pretty persistent and aggressive.”
Smith added that the electricity depot itself has been negatively affected by the covid-19 pandemic.
“(Vandalism) has severely impacted on the electricity’s departments ability to reinstate those streetlights, combined with the fact that the electricity depot itself has not been running at full speed because of the Covid regulations. The mayor has explained (repeatedly) that our roads, water and electricity depots are all running at less capacity than what they should, and that the contractors that we would could’ve brought in as an alternative, were also affected by the Covid situation,” elaborated Smith.
“The circumstances happen in an ethos; they don’t happen in normal times. They’re happening on the backdrop of some pretty severe and extenuating circumstances. It is my understanding that they are trying to get those lights sorted and replace those cables as rapidly as possible.”
Smith meanwhile highlighted that the City is not solely responsible for tackling crime in these areas.
“The City is not alone in the response to the criminal incidents there. I’ve been watching some of the social media utterances that he (Nero) and some others have made, with some distress, because he talks as if we have no national police force.”
“Apparently, the national police force was decommissioned and removed and anything that is vaguely to do with policing is somehow, suddenly, only involving the City. I just want to remind everybody that we have a national police force who is supposed to have 22 thousand staff,” said Smith.
Smith said he was ‘tired of having this debate as if the SAPS don’t exist’, given that the City has regular patrols along Jakes Gerwel Drive, where a large number of resources have been spent on Bonteheuwel and Langa. He noted that the City “assists hundreds of motorists per month”, on the R300 and N2. Criminals, he surmised, are likely changing their modus operandi due to the increased officials.
Mayco member for Energy Phindile Maxiti explained that the department has accumulated a backlog during the hard lockdown.
“In most cases, we fix the lights today, tomorrow they are off again,” said Maxiti.
“We received numerous communications from different residents. We made a point that we will be bringing sub-contractors to make sure they’re actually fixing the lights,” he said.
Without providing specific details on routes or timelines, Maxiti further explained that it was not only Jakes Gerwel Drive that is of concern.
“We are having stretches, all over, of areas where our street lights are not working. In most cases it is because of the vandalism of the infrastructure,” said Maxiti.
He added that an investigation is underway to determine what the root causes are.
“What we did as a department, is that we’ve instituted a thorough investigation to know the root cause of these lights (being off). We are waiting on the report because its not only Jakes Gerwel, drive- there are other roads too.”