After dark, they would take to the streets of one of Cape Town’s most dangerous communities, often armed with only determination to keep criminals at bay.
But many of the once active patrollers who took it upon themselves to try and rid the streets of Marikana, in Philippi East, of the dangers plaguing the badly lit shackland, have gone into hiding after a shooting at a tavern thought to have been targeting them.
The volunteers have since been advised by community leaders to cease their patrols until those behind the bloody shooting which resulted in the deaths of 11 people on Friday are brought to book.
While the motive of the massacre – which saw four people shot dead inside a tavern, three inside a shack nearby, one outside the structure, two between the shacks and one person succumbing to their injuries in hospital – has not yet been confirmed, locals say it may be linked to vigilante killings in which seven people were murdered on September 27.
Patroller Xolani Tukwayo, 52, said he has been living in fear since the mass shooting.
He, along with other men in the area, started the night patrols after a delegation in September went to the Philippi East police station demanding visible policing as “skollies” ran rampant in the densely populated settlement.
“But SAPS told us they are too scared to patrol here. That is when we decided that we as men had the responsibility to protect our families and took it upon ourselves to keep our wives and children safe,” he said.
Crime ‘out of hand’
The men, who have no training, took to the dusty streets every night after supper, despite being threatened by gangsters and criminals and being told their patrols were not needed or that they were ineffective.
On Friday, he had been attending a meeting when a resident phoned to tell him about the shooting.
“I was shocked. I knew most of the people who had been shot – we had patrolled together,” he said.
Despite advice to cease patrols until arrests are made, Tukwayo – a father of five – has carried on.
“Crime here is out of hand. We need security. Many of our members are scared and have pulled out, but some of us are still continuing. We must do what we can to keep our people safe.”
The efforts of the patrollers haven’t gone unnoticed, with some locals saying they would rather report incidents to the “fathers” than to the authorities.
“We need them. They do the things the police are too afraid to do,” Nosiphe Mbete insisted.
“They are our own cops. They were fearless. They would chase these dogs keeping us hostage and deal with them. The cops with their weapons and big vans were too scared to do it.
“When they were around, we felt safe. My children could go to the shop to buy bread in the early evening because our heroes were on guard. Now it looks like the tsotsis have won because the patrollers live in fear.”
No street lights
The police are of no use to them, residents maintain. Some say they have been told by officers “just like that” that they were too scared to respond to incidents in the heart of the shackland as there are no roads for vehicle access, only narrow passageways allowing pedestrian thoroughfare.
There are no street lights in Marikana as the settlement is built on private property.
In a historical judgment handed down at the end of August, Western Cape High Court Judge Chantal Fortuin ordered the City of Cape Town to negotiate the purchase of the land with the legal owners so that the 60 000 people living there are not evicted from their homes, GroundUp reported.
Previous applications by ward councillors for high mast lighting have been unsuccessful as council is not allowed to install lighting on privately owned property.
Locals living toward the centre of Marikana say the area is so badly lit that criminals run rampant with little fear of being seen or caught.
A single mother, who asked not to be named, said she once witnessed a stabbing and phoned the police to report it.
“They never came. The man almost died. He was in hospital for weeks. I put my safety on the line to phone them and for what? They didn’t even care enough to come and try to arrest the perpetrator,” she said.
“Here, you have to deal with the rubbish yourself. They need to be put down like the animals they are. People judge and the police arrest us when we take the law into our own hands. Where are they with their big guns when people are getting killed?”
‘Waste of time to phone the police’
Western Cape community safety MEC Dan Plato on Monday met with community leaders at the Philippi East police station where he said police management had given him assurance that the police were “on top of the situation” and urged the public to trust them.
But locals remain unconvinced.
When you’re a victim of crime in Marikana, it’s a waste of time to phone the police, said resident Edna. She asked that her full name not be used.
She said she once found the people who had robbed and stabbed her son herself because she “knew the police wouldn’t do it.
“They are too scared to come here. We are left to fend for ourselves because amapolisa [police] only come as far as the main street. The rest is up to us,” she said.
What she did to the perpetrators is “not important”, Edna insisted, with a shake of her head.
“But when they see me, they cross the street because they know I don’t stand for nonsense. Why can’t the police command the same kind of respect?”
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula is expected to visit the local police station on Tuesday. – News24