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The installation and maintenance of CCTV cameras and lights, the training of police to handle cases of domestic violence and the activation of crime offices are some of the solutions that were proposed by Khayelitsha residents and stakeholders at the Khayelitsha Crisis Response Summit held at False Bay College on Youth Day. Organised by the Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF), the summit brought Khayelitsha residents, the provincial government and the police secretariat together to discuss responses to crime following a spate of mass shootings in the township.

According to the combined statistics of the three police stations in the township that were presented at the summit by Major-General Vincent Beaton, between April 2021 and March 2022, 36 dockets had been opened specifically related to mass shootings that claimed the lives of 86 people. Most murders and gender-based, violent crimes in Khayelitsha, he reported, happen on weekends and liquor plays a big role.

The summit divided into five commissions that dealt with effective community participation in fighting crime, the role and impact of social ills, the integrated justice system, urban and environmental design, and gender-based violence. Reporting back on the commission he led, former MEC for safety in the Western Cape, Leonard Ramatlakane said that residents are fearful of giving tip-offs to the police as information gets leaked at the police stations. The commission recommended that the police manage information better and that the government should provide resources to support neighbourhood watch volunteers.

Another commission which was led by policing expert and director of African Centre for Security and Intelligence Praxis (ACSIP), Eldred De Klerk said that poverty and social ills make residents invisible and that the level of services rendered in the township are of poor quality compared to the suburbs. The need for safe and affordable public transport services was raised in the commission as an urgent issue.

The summit occasioned the handover of ten police vans to the Khayelitsha police stations.

Former Western Cape police commissioner, Mzwandile Petros led a commission that recommended that the police activate ‘crime offices’. A crime office is for police officers and detectives that are on standby to investigate reported crimes. The group also recommended the installation of CCTV cameras.

The installation of surveillance cameras was echoed by the commission led by Alastair Graham from the City of Cape Town, as well as the improvement of lighting as a way of preventing crime. The commission also said that there is a need to fix the existing roads as potholes lead to car hijackings.

The commission on gender-based violence recommended that police officers receive training on the domestic violence act and that victim support rooms be always open. Nonzame Sili from the Abigail Women’s Movement said that victims of gender-based violence should know where to go at a police station instead of being sent from one person to the next without getting any help.

Response by Bheki Cele

In his response to some of the recommendations raised, police minister, Bheki Cele lambasted the City of Cape Town for neglecting the township. Cele said most of the street lights in Khayelitsha do not work: “The mast light near where the six people were killed in May was not working and that is perhaps why they were killed there. If there was also a camera, then we would have arrested the people who committed the crime the next day,” said Cele.

“A police officer was shot in Site B and the shooting happened near an area with a camera. When we wanted to get footage so that we can arrest the suspect, we discovered that the camera had not been working for six years,” he said.

Minister Bheki Cele criticised the City of Cape Town for failing to deliver the services that could prevent crime in Khayelitsha.

On the issue of streetlights, the City of Cape Town blamed the situation on theft and vandalism. “The Khayelitsha area and other areas across the metro have experienced an unprecedented increase of electricity infrastructure theft, vandalism and illegal connections. Khayelitsha is one of the areas where we repair infrastructure that are repeatedly vandalised,” said mayoral committee member for energy, Beverley van Reenen.

“There are currently 34 cameras installed in Khayelitsha. However, due to rampant theft and vandalism of infrastructure, only 10 are in working condition currently. The city is working hard to find solutions to this problem, and it is hoped that some of the cameras that are out of order will return to service in the coming week,” she said.

According to van Reenen, the City of Cape Town has undertaken a programme “to retrofit existing cameras with updated technology and capabilities, including license plate recognition tech”. The city has, however, warned that the existence of the cameras will not solve the crime problem as the police and the justice system has to do be effective.

“Unfortunately, the reality is that as little as 15% of the CCTV incidents detected are requested and footage used by the SAPS in achieving convictions – something the city has placed on record with SAPS. While vandalism is a challenge, the rate of repairs and maintenance thereof is impressive. It is unrealistic to expect CCTV cameras to stop crime entirely in the absence of effective policing by SAPS,” said van Reenen.

Spaza shops owned by ‘foreigners’

Ndithini Tyhido, the chairperson of the Khayelitsha Development Forum, warned that the issue of “foreign nationals especially Somalis” owning shops in Khayelitsha is a “ticking time bomb”. “Currently, all of the spaza shops in Khayelitsha are run by Somalians. But, there are no police records or dockets that were opened against those who extort protection money from them. It then makes them wilful participants. The unintended consequence of their willingness unfortunately fuels the situation that we find ourselves in,” he said before hastily qualifying that they would not support Operation Dudula-type vigilantism. “Our response has to be measured so that we do not plunge the community into xenophobia,” he added.

Archive photo: Shuttered Somali-run shops during xenophobic attacks in Site C, Khayelitsha in 2017.

In his response, Cele, said that there should be quotas implemented to prevent the dominance of Somalians in the spaza shop business. “If most of the spaza shops are owned by foreigners, then where should the youth go? There must be a reversal of the situation. The government should support spaza shops that are run by South Africans. But, I know that you also like fast cash. You will get the spaza shops and sell them back to them,” said Cele.