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Marchers call for better street lighting

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“I have been staying in this darkness for about 25 years”

Photo of people in the street at night
Residents of Town Two in Khayelitsha marched on Tuesday night demanding better street lighting to deter criminals. Photo: Vincent Lali
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Angry residents marched down the streets of Khayelitsha on Tuesday evening to complain about a lack of street lighting which they say leaves them at the mercy of criminals. The march, in Town Two, was organised by the Social Justice Coalition (SJC).

SJC general secretary Axolile Notywala said residents wanted proper street lighting, not the high mast lights which did not deter criminals.

“When you travel in Constantia, you find that there are street lights, but you find high mast lights in black townships,” said Notywala. High mast lights did not deter criminals at night, he said.

“In black townships such as Khayelitsha and Nyanga where there are high masts, crime is rampant, which shows that they don’t prevent crime,” he said. He said Town Two had three high mast lights. Notywala said high mast lights had been used by the apartheid government to “police movement of blacks” and not for the safety of residents. “The City of Cape Town says people want high mast lights, but they want them simply because they have no choice. We want the City to allocate large amounts of money for street lighting in black townships.”

SJC organiser Nontando Mhlabeni called on the City of Cape Town to show residents a long-term plan to install street lights in townships. High mast lights left a pool of shadow which exposed residents to crime, she said. “We get raped and robbed while the mast lights are on.”

Ward Councillor Thando Phimpi said a lack of street lights created conditions for crime and made it hard for paramedics and even the police to do their work in SST section. “Even the police are not safe here as they can be easily robbed of their guns in the dark,” he said.

He said he had used money allocated to his ward to install street lights in SST section. “Before I installed them, the area used to be pitch-black at night.” His ward budget could not stretch to buying streetlights for his whole ward, he said.

SST resident Bukelwa Fiphaza walks her 11-year-old son to a Golden Arrow bus stop in Japhta Masemola Street at 5:25am on weekdays. “Because it is still dark outside I fear for our safety,” she said. “When you step out to throw bath water away in the morning, thugs emerge from the dark alleys, grab and attack you.” Residents dared not venture out of their shacks after 9pm, she said. “Men just watch because they fear for their own safety while thugs rob women of their handbags.”

Nomzamo Sidodi said the mast light in SST often broke down. If the City installed streetlights, said Sidodi, thugs would be “ashamed” to commit crime. She said: “When it is light, we will be able to avoid people who make us feel suspicious.”

Former community leader Mandisa Mnyiphika said she often found handbags which had been emptied by thieves in the street on her way back from taking her daughter to the bus stop for school. “I sometimes see bags whose contents have been emptied by criminals lying around dark alleys in the mornings. One bag contained a medication,” said Mnyiphika. “Even men come back from toilets screaming for help, with their trousers hanging above their knees while knife-wielding thugs chase after them.”

She said she had recently rescued her son from criminals who demanded his money and cell phone. “I caught the thugs wrestling with my son and beat them with a stick before other residents supported me,” she said. “I fight back when attacked because I have nowhere else to run to.”

“I have been staying in this darkness for about 25 years.”

The City of Cape Town had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. Comment will be added when it is received.

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TOPICS:  Crime

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