Women neighbourhood watch members lead crime fighting in “most dangerous” communities
“We decided that we couldn’t depend on the police to do everything”
When crime in Sector 4 of Mandela Park, Khayelitsha, reached boiling point, a group of mostly elderly women took on the task of patrolling the streets in a bid to make their area safer.
“I joined in 2012. We decided that we couldn’t depend on the police to do everything. So a few of us availed ourselves to help our community,” says 62-year-old Eileen Fortune, chairperson of Vukusebenza Neighbourhood Watch. The name loosely translated means: “Let us stand up and work together”.
“They know me in the community because I’m not afraid. Ek staan vir my ding [I stand up for my thing],” she said.
Fortune and several other members were among about 300 women from neighbourhood watch groups in metro south areas, from Pelican Park to Khayelitsha, who traded their reflective jackets and torches for scones and tea on Friday evening.
The event, hosted by the Western Cape Department of Community Safety, was to celebrate most of the female-led neighbourhood watch groups who patrol in some of the provinces most dangerous crime hotspots.
“There are times that we get scared to go on patrols but we have a Whatsapp system where we stay in constant contact with the community members. This helps a lot. When we come across a troubled child or one who is doing drugs, we first get the street committee to try and sort things out with the parent. If that doesn’t work, we then call the police. Doing this has made such a difference,” Fortune said.
Mariam Davids, chairperson of the New Horizon Neighbourhood Watch in Pelican Park, coordinates a group of about 30 volunteers. “We cover a big area. A challenge is that we have such a diverse community both economically and culturally,” she said. “There is also a lack of SAPS visibility at times … there just aren’t enough police officers. If there are shootings in Ottery or Lotus River then we won’t get assistance at all.”
Davids said their neighbourhood watch has started supporting youth programmes in the community to “keeps kids occupied and off the streets”.
Mandisa Phindela, from Sector 4 in Khayelitsha, said that during the week her group patrols in the mornings between 6am and 8am and returns in the afternoons. At the weekend they patrol in larger groups from 7pm to 11pm. She said they often worked closely with police to alert them to any possible criminal activity. “The people in the community love us because we walk with them to the station and we share information to keep people safe,” she said.
Faiza Bester of the Beacon Valley “walking bus”, which escorts children to school and monitors people walking to and from work, said: “Most of us are pensioners and grannies. We get up at 4:45am when most people leave for work. There are shootings and muggings … It’s terrible but the gangsters actually have a lot of respect for us because we also greet them … If we aren’t there in the mornings then you hear how people get robbed … Our presence does make a difference.”
At the event MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz said: “These are women, who at night when everyone else is in their warm beds, are still out patrolling roads in some of the most dangerous areas. There are women up to the age of 75, but we also want more of the youth to participate and take back our streets.”
“I’m also trying to resolve people’s struggle to get equipment and uniforms,” he said.
On Monday night, Fritz is expected to launch a new neighbourhood watch in George.
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