By Sibabalwe Tame
Community members from Makhanda’s Wards Four and Eight, ward councillors, the South African Police Service (SAPS), and the Community Police Forum (CPF), gathered in the Makhanda City Hall on 20 September to highlight crime problems and hotspots and look for ways to deal with with the crime that is currently spiralling out of control in Makhanda.
“The message is clear: Makana is nearing a security crisis and a ‘war time’ mode is necessary, whereby members of the public should step up and volunteer for CPF duty to protect the infrastructure” said Ward Eight councillor Cary Clark and Ward Four councillor Geoff Embling, both of the DA.
Clark added that copper cable theft had become rife in the town and thieves had begun targeting electricity substations, disconnecting the electricity of large parts of the town for hours on end.
Embling pointed out that there was a lack of streetlighting which also contributed to growing crime levels. “Roughly 90% of the non-operational streetlights have had their circuits ripped off, making the process of fixing them more costly than a simple bulb change”, he said.
Clark and Embling said that after budgeting for cable replacement and maintenance, there is “scarcely any funding for streetlight repairs” in the municipal budget. They supported the idea of a think-tank made up of the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), departments from Rhodes University and other Makhanda organisations that could assess the current integrated development plan and budget, and recommend new allocations of funds to the Council.
Colonel Mbulelo Pika, SAPS Makhanda Station Commander, briefed the residents about how the police, community, private security companies, Rhodes University, and the town’s churches could work together in fighting crime.
Pika said the CPF works closely with SAPS and has sub-structures known as sectors, which are all very active. “We have got the Community in Blue and those are the people that we are working with,” said Pika. He also mentioned that WhatsApp groups were created for residents and the different security agencies and companies to alert each other about crime. Pika himself is a member of one of these WhatsApp groups in his own area, Hlalani, and said another WhatsApp group is active in Hooggenoeg.
“We have got cable theft, housebreaking, business break-ins – those are the crimes that are harming us,” said Pika, adding that there were also many assaults taking place. “These are the crimes that – if we come together, if we can hold hands – we will be able to deal with them,” said Pika.
He also mentioned that the police have set up a structure to work with churches against crime, which includes Reverend Sawule (chairperson), Reverend Tshanyana (deputy chairperson), and Reverend Engelbrecht (secretary). This structure is also tasked to deal with the morals of the people, Pika said. “We want to make sure that there are people that are talking to the upbringing of our children, that are talking to how the families should stay,” he added. Pika also noted that Rhodes students who live off campus were vulnerable to crime when walking home at night and the SAPS would meet with Rhodes University to discuss this.
Rowan Engelbrecht of the CPF and Ward Eight Committee told the meeting that CPF had partnered with SAPS to take the crime wave in Makhanda “very seriously”. “Us as CPF, do not put our lives at risk. We follow safety channels and we look after the community and ourselves,” said Engelbrecht.
Hi-Tec Security proposed that cameras be installed. Speaker of the Council, ANC councillor Mabhuti Matyumza said the municipality was committed to making sure street lights functioned, and would discuss cameras further. “We opted to declare an emergency as the institution. I am calling a council meeting very soon,” said Matyumza, adding that they are going to find a way of demolishing abandoned buildings that have become a home for criminals.