Enkanini’s “field of death”

Johnnie Isaac
The road into Enkanini: a sandy track off Baden Powell Drive. Photo by Adam Armstrong.
Johnnie Isaac

Residents of Enkanini informal settlement in Khayelitsha say they have taken it upon themselves to deal with thugs that are terrorising the community.

According to residents, people are robbed on a daily basis by youth gangs with knives and sometimes guns. Most crimes occur in the early hours of the morning when people are leaving for work.

“Many people here leave for work very early in the morning and they get caught in ambush by the thieves,” said Beauty Busika, a member of Residential Committee in Chis Hani area of Enkanini.

“Everyday I hear someone screaming because of thugs.”

Busika said the community often chased wrongdoers. They dealt with them if they were caught.

On 4 April a man was necklaced. There have been several incidents. In March 2012, three men were photographed as they were burnt alive.

“They don’t always burn people,” said Busika, “but some people come from other informal settlements to commit crime here, those are the ones that usually get burned. Or if someone is caught more than once after he was warned.”

Busika says crime is not the committee’s area of focus, but it is often discussed because it affects the community; sometimes residents report perpetrators they have identified.

Residents say there is police visibility at times, but it is usually for a short period between sunset and 10pm. It helps, but in some areas there are no streets except pedestrian passages and there are no outside lamps.

Most crimes occur between midnight and 4am, when there’s no police patrol and there are few people awake to respond. They say most perpetrators are school dropouts, who consume drugs such as tik and are committing crime to feed their addictive habits.

Residents say this behaviour leaves them with no option but to take the law into their own hands, because the police take too long to arrive and they struggle to find some of the areas because of limited access.

One of the residents said mob justice is meant to send chilling effects to those involved in criminal activities. He blamed parents who know that their children are robbing people but are doing nothing about it.

“We are warning those parents who know their children are stealing from other people that they report them to police or bring them to us to sort [out]. Because it’s gonna get ugly when we catch them.”

Another source described the manner in which the community will torture those caught stealing. He said, “If a person is lucky he gets taken to a container where he will be interrogated, beaten up and set free … But if the community wants him dead, he gets killed.”

He said, “Some people don’t leave a burning person until the head explodes.” He mentioned several locations that are used for vigilante killings, among them the notorious “field of death”, a playground where a spate of vigilante killings have taken place.

Vigilante killings are one of the challenges facing the ongoing commission of inquiry into Khayelitsha policing. The commission experts are presently studying submitted evidence and will make recommendations during phase two of the inquiry. Experts will also consider the question of whether these killings constitute a manifestation of a breakdown in trust between the community and the SAPS.

A resident and former member of the Community Policing Forum in the area says crime levels increased after the policing forums stopped functioning. He said, “We had a better co-ordination with SAPS. At least when we caught someone, police would arrest the person.”

He said he didn’t know why the policing forums stopped, but acknowledges that some people had other commitments.

Other residents said policing in the area will always be difficult until the time when government builds proper houses in street format with street lamps.

Some residents were reluctant to be interviewed, fearing the implications of being quoted on this controversial subject. They said they could not be certain that journalists were not detectives.

One of the residents said, “People get into trouble just for their cellphone ringing while at a vigilante murder scene.” He said the mob get paranoid and don’t want informers whether for the police or for the media.

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TOPICS:  Assault Crime Murder Robbery Society Violence

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