By Melanie Sauer
The Department of Community Safety is calling for a collaborative approach to end gang-violence and crime in the Western Cape once and for all. Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Dan Plato, hosted a public meeting on Sunday in Elsies River to respond to the concerns of residents, who are reeling after the loss of three community members in a drive-by shooting last Monday.
A large crowd attended the afternoon meeting, including representatives from the Community Policing Forum, Neighbourhood Watch group, South African Police Services (SAPS), and leaders from churches and other organisations in the community. Residents are outraged by the past week’s violence, which has been exacerbated by the disappearance of three-year old, Courtney Pieters on Thursday.
“They (residents) want the violence and the killings to stop. According to the public, there are far too many handguns available. Even youngsters and teenagers from 13, 14, 15, and 16 years old,” says Plato.
Plato raised concerns regarding the mentality of youngsters in communities that “want to see blood and death.”
“We are facing a massive societal problem. We as a community need to address this message in a meaningful way, with community members, the government and the police.”
In his address to the community, Plato urged parents to “take charge of their children” by ensuring they don’t roam the streets at night “running amok”, and reporting children, who they suspect are involved with drugs and/or firearms, or affiliated with gangs, to the police.
Plato noted that the community could not solely rely on the government and police.
“All governmental and community structures are well established. We just don’t know what is happening next. We need the community structures to inform us on what is going to happen next in the communities.”
Deputy Chairperson for the Elsies River Community Police Forum (CPF), Imraan Mukkadam, identified the current relationship between SAPS and the communities, as a barrier to achieving this.
“There is the issue of trust between the community and police because of perceived or real corruption. People know who the perpetrators are but they do not trust in the police that it (supplying this knowledge) won’t come back to hurt them, or expose them further. That’s the big problem that needs to change.”
Plato agrees that change needs to first begin with the police.
“It’s a combination of factors that will stop the violence. But a fish rots from the head. If we can’t get to the head, it will be a futile exercise. Police must hit the leadership of (gangs) very hard.”
Later in the evening, the search for three-year old Courtney Pieters, who went missing on Thursday in Elsies River continued into the early hours of the evening, which was also attended by the Mitchell’s Plain Crisis Forum.
Reports of a foul smell emitting from bushes in the area were investigated, but found to be a dead dog.
“We were very relieved. At least there is still hope for young Courtney,” says Mukkadam.
After searches of yards surrounding Pieter’s residence returned nothing, the CPF are now obtaining a general warrant for SAPS to search people’s homes in the area.
While Mukkadam appreciates Plato’s active involvement with communities, he believes that the state needs to do a lot more to promote lasting change, particularly for young people.
“What we need is the involvement of social services. We need social workers. Our kids are traumatised. They are witnesses to most of these violent cases and will be affected for life,” says Mukkadam.
Speaking about the memorial service from the victims of last week’s shooting, which saw the community rally together, Mukkadam is adamant that they will no longer tolerate the violence and crime that has been experienced in recent weeks.
“We’ve had enough. These isolated incidences of terroirsm have driven the media perception of the town to be one of the most horrible places to live in. And we need to change this. We need to take back our town and make it the Elsies river we all grew up with and know.”
The Elsies River CPF will be holding a crisis meeting on Wednesday 10th May at 7pm at the Elsies River Civic Centre. The meeting will assess “a way forward” and discuss strategies and solutions to deal with gang-related violence and crime. VOC