Saturday, 12 December 2009

Community up in arms to safeguard their area

9 December 2008, 10:54

By Jacques Breytenbach

It takes some effort getting into Warron Williams' off-road vehicle. You would not expect it any other way, being a vehicle used for patrols in a rural area.

You have to press the door handle at just the right angle for it to open and when you climb in, your feet must make way for the spotlight on the floor.

"This car doesn't go in the garage anymore," he says pushing the key into the ignition, "you have to be ready for anything, day or night".

We drive through the gate of his smallholding somewhere on the outskirts north-east of Pretoria. He has agreed to show me the real extent of the problem his community faces each night.

One that involves fear, anxiety and is often bloody. But to this problem there is an unyielding need for resolve. A resolve that will lead to peace. And peace that will bring healing.

"At night my wife and I watch television with our guns in hand," he says turning onto the main road. "It is such a shame that we have to live in fear in such a beautiful part of Gauteng."

Being the spokesperson for the Kameeldrift Community Policing Forum (CPF) is a full-time job. One that Williams has taken upon himself to do with gusto.

Earlier, we spoke in his office about the spate of violent attacks that have happened in the area in the last five years.

The statistics speak for themselves. Since March in 2008, 38 armed robberies, five murders, two rapes, one attempted rape, five shootings, and four house robberies have left a once peaceful community engrossed in fear.

Out of all these incidents, only three arrests have been made.

For this reason, Williams and the community feel deserted by government and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

"You can't help but to feel let down by the police. Political will without action is rhetoric. We know that these are organised gangs. Why hasn't the organised crime-fighting unit been called in? They are relying on an old-fashioned way of policing that is not working."

The Kameeldrift CPF has spent hundreds of thousands of rands of their own money to try and put an end to the attacks. An estimated R800 000 has been spent on radios alone.

Like many other residents, Williams believes that a "third force" is behind the violent crime in the area.

On November 25, the community of Kameeldrift called for the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to investigate if this is indeed the case. But this was quickly dismissed by the police as being the root cause of the problem.

The national police spokesperson, Dennis Adriao, said members of the national and provincial police intelligence were trying to bring the perpetrators to book.

"The police will look at these allegations, but at this stage there is no evidence to suggest that a third force is behind the Kameeldrift attacks."

Williams and I turn off the Kameelfontein Road into Gabbata Guesthouse. "This will show you how determined the community is to look after each other if anything should happen to their neighbours," he says as the Land Rover comes to a stop.

Various residents of the area were taking part in a week-long first aid course at the guesthouse where they were taught how to deal with various injuries, including how they can try and stop the bleeding from stab wounds.

One of the residents taking part in the course, Simonay Pietersen, said she took part because she wanted to help in any way she can.

"If a shooting takes place, at least I know I'll be able to be of some assistance."

Democratic Alliance leader, Piet van der Watt, said to blame the violent crime in Kameeldrift on poverty would be far-fetched.

"They simply don't steal things in the houses they attack anymore. I see it as genocide that is being orchestrated by a third force.

"Our slogan is 'stand together against crime'. We are not focused on roads and service delivery at this stage. We want to eradicate crime in the area, because people cannot live under these conditions."

In the same vein, Nantes Kelder, of AfriForum, said the fact that in some attacks not a single item is stolen, but people are left dead, makes him believe that there is a third force at play.

"On closer inspection, you can see a pattern where the man of the household is purposefully identified and shot. This leads to the women and children of the community moving back to the city, with the land they occupied left vacant."

Kelder said the community has done much more than it should, and that it is time for the police to move in.

"AfriForum wants to thank all the members of the CPF for the hard work they are putting in. We can't expect them to become more involved, because a lot of these guys are employed, and go to work from 8am to 5pm, and then they drive on patrols for the whole night."

Since October, Kameelfontein Laerskool has been broken into four times, resulting in R60 000 worth of equipment being stolen.

Said Johan van Staden, the principal: "Some of the children at the school have lost parents to the attacks. When they come to school in the morning and see the doors kicked in and windows broken after a robbery, they become traumatised. Some children had to receive counselling after these robberies."

"I believe a third force is behind this uncontrollable situation. The crime here is so concentrated that one can only assume that these criminals have been trained by professionals."

Kameeldrift CPF chairperson, Marie Kruger, said untrained police officers are fuelling the problem.

"The police in Kameeldrift just do not have the know-how. Not one of the police officers at the station lives in the area so they don't know what is happening on the ground.

"The feeling you get is that the police do not want to involve you in their operations. They organise meetings, but we are not told when and where they will take place.

"We feel that we are being purposefully chased out of the area by a third force."

Roodeplaat CPF representative, Marietjie Peense, said no one wants to take responsibility for the crime crisis in the country.

"We are just as proud about our country as anyone else. This country is bleeding because of this problem. It is not just the white community that is suffering because of this. Crimes being committed on our black citizens are swooped under the carpet.

"There is a total lack of urgency from the police in dealing with the situation. There are people who are involved in our neighbourhood watch who sometimes do not even have food to eat, but they go out on patrols. That is how committed the community is in fighting crime.

Peense agrees with Kruger that a third force is behind the attacks.

"Why is it necessary to rape and kill someone for a cell phone?"

Kameeldrift police station commander, Superintendent Edwin Lelaka, explained that there are two factors that make crime fighting in the area difficult.

"First, there is the environmental design of the area to look at. Dense vegetation allows criminals to hide behind bushes when they are pursued.

"Second, the social design should also be taken into account. A lot of people come here to look for jobs. If they don't find employment, they resort to house robberies."

But Lelaka could not explain the aggression involved in the attacks.

"I cannot explain the anger behind the violent crime, but this does not mean that there is a third force at play. According to our intelligence, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a third force, but what we do know is that these criminals operate in groups."

Lelaka said although the CPFs are important to put a stop to the crime in the area, they must be more inclusive.

"For the CPF to be effective, they should not only consist of landowners, but farm workers as well. We all have to come together. I believe they are not doing enough to involve their workers."

Lelaka explained that the station was trying to fill the gap left open after the rifle commandos were phased out.

"Nothing replaced them when they were dissolved and this has left us in a bad situation."

The north-east region of Pretoria is divided into four sectors: Roodeplaat (sector 1), Kameeldrift (sector 2), Leeuwfontein (sector 3), and Kameelfontein (sector 4). Each of these sectors is divided into smaller cells, with each cell having a leader.

Kameeldrift police station is situated between sector one and two. Kameelfontein and Leeuwfontein cell leaders are in the process of setting up a command station between these two sectors.

Leeuwfontein cell leader, Paul Pretorius hopes the station will be fully operational within the next two weeks.

He added to Lelaka's view that the area is struggling because the commandos are no longer operating in the area.

"In the past all the people living here were involved in the local rifle commandos. We had military vehicles at our disposal and the police were only called in to deal with petty crimes. When the commandos were taken away, the police were left on their own to deal with professional criminals.

"It is unrealistic to think that Kameeldrift police station is going to keep crime under control in an area bigger than 750 square kilometres.

"The goal of this command station is that the various CPF members can meet and plan their patrols before they go out each night," Pretorius said. On our way to the last stop of the day, Williams tells me the story of 63-year-old Chris Jacobs.

On May 7, 2008, Jacobs and his family were attacked on their small holding in Kameeldrift.

Four armed gunmen shot Jacobs in his leg, his wife in the stomach, raped his daughter in-law, and physically manhandled his 10-year-old grandson in the attack.

We stop in front of Jacobs' house. We are greeted by several large guard dogs as we climb out of the Land Rover. Jacobs takes us through to the living room.

There is an uneasy feeling in the house - tense almost - as one cannot help but imagine the horror that took place within these four walls that fateful autumn night. With his hand resting on his leg, still bruised but recovering after the incident.

"We are being victimised for no apparent reason," he says, "We can't sleep at night." Jacobs and his family have been living here since 1969 and his house maid has been with him for the past 20 years, the gardener even longer. A legacy, shattered in one night.

"That night when they came in here, they tied my 10-year-old grandson's hands and feet and kicked him repeatedly. "We did nothing wrong to those four men that came into the house. We pray every night that God will rescue us from this crime-ridden area."

This article was originally published on page 4 of The Pretoria News on December 09, 2008

Source:The Star

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