Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Cullinan - a community under siege

Hanti Otto

July 10 2006 at 08:07PM

In the past few years at least 19 people have been murdered in the Cullinan farming community. There have also been 19 incidents of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, attempted murder and armed robbery. Entire families have been attacked.

These are just the "big" crimes the Cullinan Farmers' Union has recorded.

It excludes housebreakings, car theft, five cash-in-transit robberies in the past four years and the fact that almost every property has been visited by criminals at least once a year for the past seven years.

Emotions in the community range from very scared to very angry. Being at the mercy of relentless criminals was not their idea of a "free democracy where safety is guaranteed".

Many members of the community are negative about the police

"We are vulnerable as we cannot shoot to protect ourselves, and the criminals know it," one said.

The "lucky" ones were only robbed. Others were killed, raped, and assaulted, with the attackers sometimes not even taking anything.

Although many residents regard the attacks as racially motivated, they admit that black farmers and workers were also victims, and that survival was possible only because everyone in the area kept their eyes and ears open.

Gerhard du Plessis of Leeuwfontein says workers are first to notice strangers or recognise danger.

"We have to look out for each other; no one else is doing it," he said.

Henri Combrink, safety and security co-ordinator of the Cullinan Farmers' Union, said their area stretched from the Witbank highway to Moloto, including Leeuwfontein, Kameeldrift, Rayton and Cullinan.

This 1 400km2 area consists of almost 4 000 farms and smallholdings.

Although the community feels that the Cullinan police station commissioner, Superintendent Shoni Joshua Chauke, is trying his best, local police cannot do much with only six policemen - two of whom have to man the station - and two vehicles to patrol the huge area.

Combrink said Chauke's hands were tied by a lack of resources.

The union meets with police once a month to discuss crime prevention. However, due to the station's problems, many members of the community are negative about the police and do not even bother to report incidents, he said

Referring to the short intervals between attacks, Combrink said that in some areas residents were robbed three times a week.

"It's as if the goods the criminals steal are a bonus after the main goal - to kill. They come armed, indicating that they are prepared to use their weapons," he said.

Combrink said revenge and racial conflict seemed to be the main reason for the attacks. He believes most of the attackers are members of syndicates operating from Mamelodi, and that there is also a car theft group from Tembisa operating in the area.

"We are not succeeding in clamping down on crime. Just when the community manages to get the better of criminals in one area, they move to another," he sighed.

Andries Pretorius said there were only a few individuals willing to go out on patrol at night. He himself had discovered the bodies of murdered friends on a farm a year ago.

He said crime was not only affecting the direct victims, but everyone else too. Relating an attack on himself, Pretorius said his two daughters, aged five and 10, saw him covered in blood after the attack. It had been extremely traumatic for them.

Annelize Viljoen and Johmar van Zijl said that after an attack on them they had phoned Cullinan police and the Flying Squad. The first car to eventually arrive was from Mamelodi.

"Police later found my bakkie, locked. They didn't even take fingerprints," Viljoen said.

They gave their clothes, blood-soaked by an injured suspect, to the police. The last time they had asked, no DNA tests had been done.

A week afterwards police had still not inspected the crime scene.

Not long after the attack, Viljoen and Van Zijl spotted the robbers' vehicle on the Cullinan road.

They followed it and phoned the police. There was no reaction.

"I know it is nasty, but I just wish Thabo Mbeki or Charles Nqakula can for once experience the fear and helplessness we have felt. Maybe then the general public will become important to them," they said.

This article was originally published on page 10 of Pretoria News on July 10, 2006


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