Recently, Cape Town neighbourhoods have seen several attacks on neighbourhood watch (NHW) members in the Cape Flats. Over the past weekend, frustrated NHW members protested outside the Mitchells Plain police station after a female NHW member was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer – an allegation which has since been strongly refuted. Furthermore, reports indicate that a NHW member from Lentegeur was recently arrested by SAPS while patrolling near a suspected drug merchants home. The treatment of NHW members in Cape Town by the South African Police Services (SAPS) have raised eyebrows in many communities, who are now questioning the integrity and role of SAPS as well as the role neighbourhood watches have in the City.
Coordinator for the Westgate Mall neighbourhood watch, Ridwaan Nero says that some NHWs are still battling to receive assistance from SAPS in fighting criminal elements in their communities.
He says that despite police knowing who the members of the NHWs are, they confusingly seem to prioritise cases brought by alleged gangsters and criminals against the NHW members.
“In some cases, we have members of neighbourhood watches still battling to get assistance against gangsterism…it’s very worrying,” said Nero.
“Recently, there were a few incidents where members were targeted by gangsters. Cases were made against the gangsters, but they [the gangsters] in turn made cases against NHW members who were then arrested. It’s worrying because the NHW members’ cases weren’t even seen to before the words of the criminals were taken and then obviously steps were taken against NHW members – which is very sad.”
Nero indicated that while he understands the need for the law to run its course he doesn’t understand why, as supposed partners in fighting crime, NHW members are not trusted and respected – especially where criminal cases and complaints filed by alleged gangsters are concerned.
“We don’t refute that nobody is above the law…the system needs to take its course but we say let’s look into this matter. We are the partners of SAPS… surely you will trust your partner and listen and see what they have to say before taking steps?”
He added that it’s not uncommon for gangsters and other criminals to resist the presence and activities of NHWs and even warned of some misled residents acting in a similar fashion.
Meanwhile, Community Safety MEC, Albert Fritz has called for an investigation into the situation – particularly in the Mitchells Plain area and more specifically regarding the incident that sparked the protest outside of the Mitchells Plain police station.
MEC Fritz echoed the sentiments of Nero in saying that the partnership between NHWs and police need to be respected.
“If you talk about a relationship, partners are respected. They must be respected. So, if a partnership exists between the department, police and the NHW, all three must be respected equally. It’s not like there’s anyone superior.”
“It’s almost like when the gangsters complain to police they act very quickly to stop our NHWs from doing their work…how do you arrest your own partner?”
MEC Fritz has called for SAPS, the NHWs and the CPFs to stand united against their common enemy – crime, criminals and gangsterism.