Gang battles and bullets saw 44 people killed in six months in one Cape Flats suburb.
But the deployment of 100 law enforcement officers to the streets of Bonteheuwel has seen the area having its first murder-free month this year, bringing down the number of gang casualties from an average of seven murders to zero.
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, who joins the patrollers for at least an hour every day, says their constant presence in the streets has resulted in the rebuilding of confidence between authorities and residents.
This 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.
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 the army has only been in Bonteheuwel twice.
“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.”
The project is funded by McKenzie’s ward allocation as well as the mayor’s adjustment budget.
Western Cape Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz has commended the team’s successes, saying initiatives like these are essential in combating crime and gangsterism.