Imbizo tackles gang plan

General Khehla Sithole, second from right, speaks to Ralph Bouwers, left, Phillip Bam and Lucinda Evans.

Hundreds of residents, community leaders and other stakeholders had the opportunity to ask pertinent questions relating to policing at an imbizo held in a marquee on the notorious field in Lavender Hill’s Depsiton Crescent, known for gang shootouts, on Friday May 25.

On the panel was the National Commissioner of Police, General Khehla Sithole, Western Cape Provincial Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Khombinkosi Jula and MEC for community safety Dan Plato.

The Imbizo was part of an interactive gathering where those in attendance could give ideas on how police can better service the area, specifically those affected by gangsterism.

Lieutenant General Jula said police had launched Operation Thunder, a national intervention programme to counter the challenge of gang violence on the Cape Flats, on Tuesday May 15.

The programme brought in 269 police officers from the tactical, crime intelligence, national intervention, public order policing units as well as the tactical response unit that is currently in the province conducting operations, to curb gang violence in the precincts where it most prevalent.

Lieutenant General Jula said the officers were called in as reinforcements to gather intelligence, make arrests and to secure convictions.

He said national police are mindful of how complex the surge of gang violence is and that is why the engagement was called with various stakeholders from communities affected by gangsterism.

“It requires more hands on deck, there have been interventions, the last engagement was in 2016. We have to change certain ways in which we do things. In the past the issues and concerns were raised about level of police but this time around we have to change approach and that is why we are coming to communities to ask for ideas and how to move forward. We would appreciate some input from the community on ways to curb gangsterism, turn the situation around and bring peace to the streets ,” said Lieutenant General Jula.

Community police forums (CPFs), neighbourhood watches, street committees, court committees, provincial boards, walking bus members and other organisations came forward with ideas and concerns.

Ward councillor Marita Petersen welcomed the meeting.

“There has been ongoing violence for many months and this is a very welcome engagement by the South African Police Services (SAPS) so that they can really listen to our please and needs of the people and hopefully work towards a resolution,” said Ms Petersen.

Lavender Hill activist Lucinda Evans, who is also the Mitchell’s Plain CPF cluster chairperson, said a previous imbizo of its kind had been held in Lavender Hill in 2016 and a lot of people felt disappointed.

“We are sitting with a serious problem. Yes there are 269 people from various units to assist with this Operation Thunder but no one has been speaking to Hillview residents about the ongoing shootings. The violence in Hillview is spilling over to other areas,” said Ms Evans.

She said too many times Hillview residents call police for help only to hear that there is only one van available.

“That is disgraceful to say the least. But we need the community to mobilise. There is no active neighbourhood watch, block or street committee. We need the community to play their role as well,” she said.

Mr Plato said: “We appreciate the attention you are giving to the Western Cape. We appreciate the deployment of 269 officers. It is needed. This really assists to bring the change that is needed in many of our communities. We have seen far too many deaths by gangster violence.”

Community worker Ralph Bouwers raised the need for social intervention and sports and recreation facilities.

“The children who don’t have these outlets then turn to gangsterism because there is no other real alternative to gangsterism and the recruitment for gangs is rife,” said Mr Bouwers.

“We ask for a way to occupy them with sport, art, poetry and other things and then we’ll find that our communities will thrive,” he said.

Philip Bam, spokesperson for the Grassy Park CPF, asked if the panel was aware of police officials in cahoots with the gangsters and asked what police were doing about this corruption at the stations. “What is being done to stem the flow of guns in our communities?” he asked.

Responding to the lack of vehicles at police stations, Lieutenant General Jula said it would be investigated.

“We will do a report and we will address the condition of Muizenberg station and the vehicles specifically,” he said.

He also said corruption was being investigated and that residents needed report this if they saw it.

General Sithole said all concerns and ideas would be reported to the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, in the week following the meeting.

“We will finalise our plan in 30 days and by the end of June we will put what we have spoken about into action. It is not just a plan for police but a multidisciplinary collaboration plan for everyone. All of us have a role to play,” said General Sithole.

He commended the CPFs, neighbourhood watches, street committees, court committees, provincial boards, walking bus members and other community policing units for their work and said this was the biggest group he has seen in attendance at any of the imbizos in the past.

General Sithole agreed with Mr Bouwers’ plea for sport facilities and activities in the area.

He recommended that a programme called crime prevention through sports and recreation be started in the area and said he would mobilise it as part of the strategising plan.