It all started with one man’s passion for the safety and security of the residents of Heathfield.
That man was former member of the South African National De-fence Force (SANDF) Charles Adams who, along with other concerned neighbours, started Heathfield’s first neighbourhood watch in 1991.
For the past 28 years, Mr Adams has lived with his wife Salomé, in the area where they raised their two children, Charlton, 34, and Chan-tel, 30.
The 62-year-old, who served as the chairman of the neighbourhood watch from its inception until 2002, grew up in Stellenbosch as one of eight children, coming from humble beginnings, having joined the navy and the military services in 1978. Over the years, Mr Adams has travelled around the world, yet he says: “South Africa is still the best place (for me) out of all the 38 countries I have been to.”
Mr Adams and his family moved to Heathfield in 1988 and insisted on living in this area because it reminded him of his childhood.
Mr Adams recalls that during the late 1980s and early 90s there were many gangs in the area, many of whom robbed or harassed people on an open field where Consort Road now is.
His motivation for starting the neighbourhood watch was prompt-ed by a break-in at the home of a teacher who was living with her elderly mother. He then asked the same teacher to help send out a notice, calling on residents to help start a neighbourhood watch in the area. Together with Paul Clarence and the late George Clarence and Cedric Hanslo, they decided to help make the community safer.
The response from the community was overwhelming, said Mr Adams, with about 60 percent of the area’s residents, including women, joining the patrols which initially focused on the area around Rochester and Maidstone roads, but they laterdecided to extend the patrol to the whole of Heath- field.
The first meeting of the neighbourhood watch was held at the Heathfield Trinity Methodist church in Rochester Road, which later became the meeting place for patrollers, and where roll-calls were regularly taken from October 1992.
With simply a flashlight and a whistle – and with the help of the Steenberg police, they would patrol the length and breadth of Heath- field.
Mr Adams also took it upon himself to take down the names and contact numbers of residents in the area, and appointed street co-ordinators in order to keep the community alert of any crimes in the area. Through this, he started a look-out system where everyone takes care of their immediate areas. He also drew up emergency procedure plans if there were any incidents in the area.
When asked about some of the encounters faced on patrol, Ms Adams mentions an amusing story about a burglar who attempted to break into a local church and upon his escape, Ms Adams shouted at him “Staan stil of ek skiet” (Stand still, or I will shoot), when in fact, she was only armed with her hands stretched out as firearms. The burglar immediately fell to the floor in a panic.
The neighbourhood watch op-erated well for six years before it started struggling with internal conflicts.
“Many people no longer had the time to take part in the patrols, so the number of patrollers shrunk to 20 percent of the community,” Mr Adams said. And while he is no longer part of the neighbourhood watch, or the formal patrols, he still walks around Rochester Road, keeping an eye on things.
And Mr Adams has only praise for the current neighbourhood watch. “They are very dedicated,” he said, adding that the watch is now called PHEW 3, having ex-tended their patrols to Punts Estate, Heathfield, Elfindale, and Winsor Park through to Southfield. The original neighbourhood watch only patrolled around Heathfield and Sunberry Estate.
Mr Adams remains a community man at heart, having recently joined a seniors’ group which meets at the Heathfield Trinity Methodist Church, and for which he has arranged talks with the Community Police Forum. He and his wife have also played host to foreign exchange students from all over the world and are currently running their own tour guide business.
Mr Adams appealed to residents to join the patrol or make donations to the neighbourhood watch.
Please help to support the safety of the community.
“We as the community need to take care of our children and their children to create a safe haven in our areas.
“Our first love is the people and to ensure the safety and well being of the community.”