‘Rogue’ actions cause stir

Community leaders meet police at the site where five people burnt by vigilante neighbourhood watch members.

Tensions are running high in Overcome Heights after five people were killed and their bodies burnt in what appear to be crimes committed by a vigilante neighbourhood watch.

Community leadership and the housing steering committee alleged that the vigilante neighbourhood watch was targeting coloured residents and implementing a 9pm curfew.

The bodies were found on the Little Italy sports field behind the Overcome Heights informal settlement – two on Saturday January 25 and three more on Sunday February 16.

The identities of the first two deceased have been established and both, aged 31 and 34 years, were residents of Hillview.

At the time of going to print police could not give more information on the identities of the other three victims but said the investigation was ongoing.

The community and leadership held several meetings last week with police, the MEC for the Department of Community Safety (DOCS) Albert Fritz and Mayor Dan Plato about their concerns of a “rogue” neighbourhood watch that has allegedly been terrorising the community.

Captain Stephen Knapp, Muizenberg police spokesman, said the investigations into both cases were still ongoing and no arrests had yet been made.

He appealed to anyone with more information to come forward. “Appointed investigation officer, Detective Warrant Officer Ivan Rogers is looking to speak to a person who he only knows as Marlin and he believes could be of assistance in the double murder investigation. Marlin is known to frequent the vicinity of Cuba Heights.”

Captain Knapp confirmed that the neighbourhood watch was not registered.

“Any neighbourhood watch in the precinct has to be registered with Muizenberg police and therefore this neighbourhood watch has been operating illegally and has been going around assaulting people. We encourage communities to start neighbourhood watches but they have to work in partnership with police to safeguard communities and curb crime,” he said.

Community worker William “Rasta” Lewis said it was unacceptable that people took the law into their own hands.

“We understand that there is crime in the community but killing and setting people alight is not acceptable. What about the families of those who were burnt who can’t even recognise their children’s faces because they were burnt beyond recognition? It happened the first time where two people were burnt and now it’s happened again because they got away with it. Those responsible need to be held accountable,” he said.

Steering committee chairperson Fouzia Cassiem said the “patrols” by the vigilante neighbourhood watch had riled up the community.

“People are being beaten up – coloured people more specifically. This cannot be tolerated anymore because we are the steering committee and any neighbourhood watch that wishes to operate here needs the members to be screened and vetted. The steering committee also needs to be notified of any neighbourhood watch that starts.

“We are not against neighbourhood watches being started but we do not agree that certain people are targeted and beaten and that we are told to not be on the streets after 9pm,” said Ms Cassiem.

Community leader Karen Mentoor accused Muizenberg police of corruption and not intervening when the bodies were found burning on the sports field.

“There were police on scene but they just stood there and didn’t do anything. Residents had to throw sand on the fire because the police refused to do anything to help the people who were burning”, said Ms Mentoor.

Responding to the claims, Captain Knapp said they were compelled by law to act when there was an active crime taking place but said officers on the scene were trying to conserve the crime scene and wait for the necessary forensic teams as the victims had already died.

“The officers were trying to protect the crime scene. If people feel the officers acted in an unprofessional manner they can come to the station to lay a complaint which will be investigated,” he said.

Mr Fritz said all neighbourhood watches had to be registered with police immediately and accredited with DOCS to ensure that their work was conducted within the rule of
law.

“All neighbourhood watches, whether accredited or otherwise, must adhere to their constitutional rights and responsibilities. They may not take the law into their own hands. I urge all neighbourhood, street and block watches to ensure that they are accredited with DOCS. This will ensure that they receive the requisite training and resources; that they are properly screened and vetted by police and that they can be trusted by the community when patrolling. It will further ensure that they are held to account if they engage in vigilantism and act outside of the law,” said Mr Fritz.

He said it was clear division had been sown in the community and called on residents not to entertain this.

“It is essential that those responsible for the acts of vigilantism which led to several individuals being set alight and killed, be arrested and convicted,” he said.

Mr Plato echoed the sentiments: “Police must arrest and arrest immediately. No matter what race or religion – if you’re a killer, you are a killer and it will not be tolerated. I hope arrests will be made soon so that the courts must deal with those killers in the appropriate manner.”

He encouraged the community to live together in harmony. “There are people who want to create racial rifts in the community and that is a recipe for disaster and not what we want in the new South Africa. I encourage communities to stand together,” said Mr Plato.

Anybody with any information regarding the whereabouts of the above mentioned, is asked to contact Detective Warrant Officer Rogers on 021 787 9000 or Crime Stop 0860010111. All information is treated with the strictest confidence.