On Tuesday morning, on the street where Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa was murdered on Sunday night, a man described by residents as “high as hell on nyaope” was nabbed by the traffic police camping outside singer Kelly Khumalo’s mother’s house.
The man was offering to wash people’s cars, but was not carrying any cleaning kit. The police, apparently convinced that he resembled one of the attackers depicted in just-released Identikits, hurried him to the nearest police station for questioning, only to release him an hour later.
On Sunday evening, Meyiwa, who was visiting his girlfriend Khumalo in the Mzamo section of Vosloorus on the East Rand, was shot in the chest after one of his friends scuffled with a gunman who had entered the house. A shot was fired and another two were fired outside as the man fled with an accomplice, who was apparently posted at the door. Meyiwa was rushed to Botshelong Hospital in his BMW X6, but was pronounced dead on arrival.
Like many township communities in South Africa, Mzamo, a relatively small neighbourhood on the border of Vosloorus and Spruitview, is struggling to stem a crime wave coursing through its maze-like streets.
On open veld on Leseding Street, an entry road to Mzamo, Philemon Ndlovu (69), says: “Our church [Mahon Evangelical Services] has been robbed many times. Last month they stole 60 chairs and a wall clock. We reported it to the police, but they just took statements and that’s it. We added an alarm system. Now the criminals are stuck outside, but they’ve gone for the copper piping for the taps. People don’t work and there’s this nyaope scourge. Because if you steal a copper pipe less than one metre long, how much are you going to get for it? Five rand?”
Mzamo is a fairly new area, established in the early 1990s. The houses don’t look like typical township matchbox houses, but are built in a range of different designs and financed through bonds and from residents’ own pockets. Most have solar panels perched on their roofs.
Leslie Ngcatshe, a greying man in a navy-blue military-style cap and a yellow ANC T-shirt, is a long-time resident. He says the area derived its name, which means “effort”, from the fact that people built their homes for themselves.
“I came here in 1993,” says the pensioner. “I had a house in Katlehong and there was violence there back then. You couldn’t really walk the streets.”
Asked how the quality of life in the section had changed over the past 20 years, Ngcatshe diplomatically says: “The more our children grow up, the more the character of the neighbourhood changes. There was no crime back then. But even now, it’s petty crime; kids stealing car hubcaps and a few house break-ins, no one committing murders. If most of the crime was committed by people from here, it would be different because we would have caught them.”
Ngcatshe, a next-door neighbour to Ntombi Khumalo (Kelly’s mother), was among those who heard Sunday night’s gunshots, which he says were preceded by a “commotion”.
Ngcatshe, a former policeman, is not the only one who believes that the hysteria over crime in the neighbourhood is exaggerated.
A few streets up, in Moagi Street, whose first few hundred metres comprise Mzamo’s business precinct, there’s a decaying shopping centre, which houses a dimly lit Spar.
The centre has pale and yellowing signage for businesses that, in some cases, no longer exist.
Inside one small shopping space, Dumisani Ntsimane sells CDs. Flip through them and you find anything from gospel to old-school soul such as Isaac Hayes and local roots music such as Sankomota.
Philemon Ndlovu bemoans crime in the area. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)
“Look, the neighbourhood is fine,” says Ntsimane, who lives in the nearby Extension 16. “Everywhere there is crime because of unemployment. I wouldn’t be surprised if my car got broken into because I know the reason.”
He tells me that a mall was completed earlier this year in Extension 16 and another one is opening soon in Vosloorus. “I can’t afford to go there and pay rent, so obviously small businesses will die.”
Mzamo residents speak of being under similar economic pressures. “In one of the meetings I attended,” says Ivan Ramasodi, a middle-aged man in a pink and white dress shirt and shorts, “people were even asking the councillor about the possibility of moving into RDP houses because they can no longer afford to pay their bonds.”
Jackie Sibiya is perched on a bench on the street side of his home’s front wall, a charcoal beret flattened on to his bald head. He is among those who believe crime in Mzamo has reached unbearable levels.
“Ari safe hier. Baie mense badlalela hier [We’re not safe here. Many people see this as their playground],” he says.
“I’m a Pirates supporter. I’d see Senzo all the time here. I’d even shake his hand and say: ‘Eh, my goalie, last week we kicked ass, let’s do it again.’ He was known in the streets. Somebody must have seen the car and thought: ‘Oh, he’s here.'”
At an ANC branch meeting later in the day, the community’s efforts and inertia in trying to combat crime come under sharp focus.
Some of Mzamo’s roads lead to dead-ends. Its northern and western borders are defined by Leondale Street, which extends across the N3 and north into Wadeville.
Much of the focus at the meeting was on sealing Mzamo off with palisade fencing; the logic being that would-be criminals, once identified and chased, would be fenced in with no exit routes.
No more than 20 people attended the meeting, but they came from several parts of Ward 44 and beyond. Ward 44 includes several parts of Vosloorus such as Basothong, the informal settlements of Vlakplaats and Willowdale.
The meeting discussed getting tough on loitering, which residents say is exacerbated by foreign-owned spaza shops that stay open until late at night.
“We must also test the liquor sellers,” ANC ward chairperson Ramalikoe Mphane says. “If they are caught selling to underage kids they are out of Mzamo and we have a right to say a spot must close at a certain time.”