/ 22 January 2014

Khayelitsha commission shown ‘field of death’

Commissioners Vusi Pikol and Kate O'Regan have spent two days on in loco inspections.
Commissioners Vusi Pikol and Kate O'Regan have spent two days on in loco inspections.

The "field of death" was one of Cape Town's crime hotspots the Khayelitsha commission of inquiry was shown during in loco inspections on Wednesday.

"This is the execution place. If you do something wrong, whatever you do we bring you here and arrest you … there is rape and robbery here in the area … so people are just sick and tired of it," said single mother Thobeka Mhlawuli.

Commissioners Kate O'Regan and Vusi Pikoli and advocates involved in the inquiry were shown the field at the Nkanini informal settlement.

The Social Justice Coalition (SJC), an NGO, is one of the main complainants at the inquiry into alleged police inefficiency in Khayelitsha.

Several suspected robbers have been necklaced and killed on the sandy field, which doubles as a soccer pitch for children in the area. Necklacing involves placing a car tyre over someone's head and setting it alight.

Most Nkanini residents were hesitant to speak to journalists, fearing police action or retaliation from criminals.

Vigilante justice
However, Mhlawuli was unashamed about her support for vigilante justice. "We don't see police here, so we basically have to fight for ourselves. They never come. They only come when the crimes are finished and done, so what's the use of them?" 

She said she had witnessed many community arrests, "prosecutions" and executions carried out by angry and frustrated residents on the field. Asked what would make her stop supporting mob justice, she said "more police visibility".

"When they come here they only go to the shebeens to close them and then they leave. They don't walk around, see things, do patrols, and stay and watch."

Several other hotspots were also visited, so commissioners could see first hand the areas where crime was rife.

The SJC community support officer Welcome Makele led the commission to Harare Park, where he told them gang violence was prevalent. "There's lots of gangsters here and the police are aware of that. Nothing has improved here and this area is still dangerous," he said.

"They are shooting with lots of guns, there is robbery, and they are stabbing people."

Makele's job includes accompanying crime victims to police stations to help them open cases.

Police inefficiency
At one of the stops in Ilitha Park, another open field was shown to commissioners. "The kids are going to school when they get robbed here and the workers who go to the train station in the early hours of the morning get robbed here," he told the commission. 

At the corner of Thandazo Drive and Bida Crescent, the commission was greeted by more community members, who complained of police inefficiency, despite a CCTV camera installed overhead. "This road is the meeting point for the school gangsters when they fight at this junction. The community don't know if the CCTV camera is working, because they expect the police will come when the gang violence starts, but they don't," Makele said.

A man living on the corner, who refused to be named for fear of retaliation by criminals, said robbers frequented the spot to target people on their way to and from work. "This camera is working, but there is nothing happening and police are not following up. They just ignore the crime," he said.

He said a bullet passed through his vehicle during a shootout between criminals last year. "Very recently, when my car was shot at, three guys were shot here and one guy was lying dead there," he said pointing to the pavement across from his house.

"Police did come and ask me questions as if they want to investigate, but they never follow up and come back."

The commission's hearings start in Khayelitsha on Thursday.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille established the inquiry in August 2012 after receiving numerous complaints about police inefficiency in the Khayelitsha area. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa opposed the decision to set up the inquiry, but this was dismissed by the Constitutional Court in October 2013. – Sapa