By Ruvesen Naidoo
The importance of community meetings, for the sake of safety and protection, is necessary for crime prevention. For Rowan Engelbrecht, who is the chairman and secretary of Sector Three of the community police forum (CPF) and public relations officer of the Makhanda police station, the goal of crime prevention requires a great deal of active community participation.
Despite the low attendance of community members at the Sector Three meetings, which are held on the third of every month at the Makhanda police station boardroom, Engelbrecht remains optimistic. Also a busy Ward Eight committee member, Engelbrecht is currently working on a substance abuse campaign. To ensure the success of the campaign, stakeholders, including Rhodes University, EastCape Midlands College, the CPF, South African Police Services (Saps), the Red Cross, as well as all schools in the Makhanda District, have been invited to participate.
The substance abuse campaign is a way in which Engelbrecht hopes that the public becomes aware of the negative effects of both alcohol and drug abuse.
Given that the Makhanda community has individuals of different races and cultural backgrounds, the committee is an opportunity for those interested to be a part of a team that uses all these differences between community members as an indication of the strength that lies within our ‘rainbow nation’, as Engelbrecht calls it.
One particular relationship shared is between Rhodes University and the SAPS. Engelbrecht says the university’s ability to spread awareness on media platforms, specifically social media platforms will help Sector Three with their youth programme, which is dedicated to the empowerment of the youth. Engelbrecht sees this as a great way in which schools of Makhanda can actively contribute to spreading awareness of how rehabilitation works and how it can help the young people facing substance abuse. He also hopes that the programme will be able to educate the youth on the importance of skills development.
Although these programmes are beneficial for the community, Engelbrecht says that the lack of volunteers, both from SAPS and the general public of Makhanda, has delayed the start of the projects. In the meantime, he stays active in the community by partnering up with leaders of other CPF sectors in the town as well as Hi-Tec and the ‘Community in Blue’ initiative.
The ‘Community in Blue’ is a Neighborhood Watch initiative that operates alongside the CPF and members of the SAPS. The initiative includes 15 patrollers who wear vests when patrolling, and who are allowed to carry pepper spray and night sticks. Engelbrecht is the only official ‘Community in Blue’ patroller from Sector Three, and the initiative is seeking more volunteers.
Some of the recent successes of the Sector Three group are a petition that 200 people signed against a group of people who were committing crimes from a house. The petition was submitted to the magistrate’s court last month and the court later issued an order that arrests will be made if people of the community still face harassment or discrimination from residents of the house. Since then, Engelbrecht says that arrests have been made but sadly, no prosecutions.
Generally, he says, a petition is a good way for the community to work with the CPF as it identifies a problem that must be addressed. Engelbrecht has also worked with the anti-poaching unit from Sector Four and members of Sectors One and Two to arrest someone who had been harassing people in the Botanical Gardens. The Sectors also worked to get someone arrested who was using bedding and blankets to hide stolen goods, including bottles of perfumes and body lotions.
“We have community members coming forward with issues, but we need them to also assist us,” says Engelbrecht.
Given the serious nature of criminal activity surrounding the community, Engelbrecht also visits Aged Care centres to update the elderly on how crime is being tackled and what to do if they witness or experience crime.
For now, he aims at expanding the ‘Community of Blue’ patrolling group, which will act alongside Hi-tec, who he says is an important partner to the community police forum, and the SAPS in Makhanda.
Members of the community who are passionate about crime prevention and are willing to engage with various stakeholders of the Makhanda police station and sector teams are urged to attend the Sector Three meetings, to get a better understanding of how the structure and processes of crime prevention work.