Police Minister Bheki Cele promised change to the embattled Westbury community on Tuesday, but failed to heed residents’ calls to release protesters detained at the nearby Sophiatown police station.
Cele addressed scores of community members on the field of the Westbury Open Grounds.
In his address, the police minister said he would “clean the streets of gangsters” but conceded that one burning issue that he is unable to attend to is the release of protesters.
Cele’s speech was met with jeering from the increasingly frustrated crowd.
Cele promised that a patrolling unit would start their work on the streets of Westbury so the residents can “sleep better at night”.
Eight residents were arrested on Monday for public violence in the wake of the protest action that has swept the community. Their bail hearings have been set for Tuesday.
Cele said that if he made the promise to release the protesters, he would be “one lying, and two, breaking the law”. But, the police will not oppose their bail he said. Cele said he spoke to Justice Minister Michael Masutha about bail for those arrested.
According to Cele, national police commissioner Khehla Sitole would launch an investigation into the Sophiatown police station and report back to the community after a week.
“Police will investigate those that you say are corrupt, and we want to work with you for information” Cele said to much booing from the crowd.
The community began protesting on Friday after a woman was fatally shot in the crossfire between alleged gang members on Thursday. A 10-year-old was also injured in the melee and remains in hospital in a critical condition.
Two people have been arrested in connection with the shooting and two others are still at large. Cele was confident they would be in police custody within 48 hours.
Gauteng police commissioner Deliwe de Lange visited the community on Monday and promised that the police would stand down if the protesters stopped throwing stones at them and proceeded peacefully.
The meeting on Tuesday began with Gauteng MEC for community safety Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane calling on residents come to the makeshift stage to speak on the community’s behalf and voice their demands.
“Release our people,” the crowd chanted.
One resident, Regan Johnson, said today’s gathering should focus on addressing the scourge of violence in Westbury which hits women and mothers the most.
“We have one thing to do here. We are not talking jobs and houses here. We are talking drugs, guns and gangs. We are seeking a sustainable solution and I’m speaking not as a community leader but as a mother,” Johnson said.
Another resident said she also wanted to speak on behalf of mothers.
“I stand here as a mother of Westbury and of South Africa. Enough is enough. We can’t go to funerals every weekend. Let’s stand together as one. Mme o tshwara thipa ka bogaleng (a mother holds a knife on the sharp end).
Denzel Jones, a community representative, said that at the core of the community’s issues are racial tensions.
“In the previous dispensation, we were not white enough. Now, we are not black enough. But let me tell you, we are tough enough. 2019 is coming — we are going to vote with our minds. Not our hearts and stomachs.
“We are not ruthless but do not test us to the limit,” he said.