Community’s cry for help

Lynn Phillips, secretary of the Mitchells Plain Community Police Forum.

There were tears of anger, frustration and disappointment at a justice imbizo attended by about 200 Mitchell’s Plain residents at Oval North High School in Beacon Valley on Saturday August 20.

Residents highlighted issues of gangsterism, domestic violence, child abuse, maintenance, and the sentencing processes of the criminal justice system.

The panel consisted of Mitch-ell’s Plain police station commander Brigadier Cass Goolam, Mitchell’s Plain SAPS cluster commander Gregory Goss and provincial head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Hishaam Mohamed. Community safety structures such as the community police forums (CPFs), neighbourhood watches and CPF sub-forums also attended the meeting.

Lynn Phillips, secretary of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum, said mothers were weeping because their children were dying in gang violence and were being recruited by gangsters.

“There are so many social issues in Mitchell’s Plain that need to be addressed, such as drugs and domestic violence. I can safely say that Mitchell’s Plain has vibrant community structures and you can see that by the crime successes weekly.

“But, I don’t think the departments are doing enough to address the issues. These are people’s lives, we have the right to live in a safe environment,” she said.

Sandy Schuter, chairperson of the Strandfontein Community Police Forum, said gangsters were killing and tormenting residents and getting off with lenient sentences.

Ms Schuter said recently she had been threatened by a gangster, reported the matter, but the gangster was still roaming the area.

“I was threatened by a 27s gang member; he said he was going to kill me. I made a case, and I did not withdraw it. I was bold enough to testify, but he was given bail and still walks the streets of Strandfontein.

“Worst of all, he still gets to intimidate me. Personally, I have no say, and there is nothing I can do to protect myself,” she said.

Eleanor Manuels from Eastridge said gangsterism was rife in Mitchell’s Plain and urged residents to be pro-active. Wearing a T-shirt with her son Daniel’s picture on it, Ms Manuels spoke about the violence in her area. “My son was murdered due to police corruption and I still believe that the police are somehow working with the gangs,” she alleged. “I am hurting inside because I love my son. Parents, I am urging you to take care of your children, remain strong and speak up. “We are the people who are battling with drugs and gang violence and our children have to live and grow up in the area. Report the crimes. You don’t have to reveal your identity, let’s make our place a safer environment. And the departments here today, don’t look down on our people, help us.”

An emotional Zuleiga Boltman from Tafelsig said her mentally ill son, who is in jail, was forced to partake in a murder. She said she had sought assistance from the police and justice department.

“I am a mother and I love my child, and I do not agree nor do I take his part but gangsters are using our children for murder and they are getting away with it. Parents, I am warning you, these gangs are out to get our children.

“My son was forced to do this crime, knowing that he has a mental condition. For three years I have been seeking assistance regarding the case, but the doors are always closed,” she said.

Kashiefa Figliomeno from Eastridge said for 13 years she had received no maintenance from her child’s father.

She said she had approach-ed the father and the court but received little assistance. “After he appeared, he eventually made a payment of R350, and thereafter nothing again. We as single mothers have to look after the needs of our children, but the money from the father is just as important.

“I have been to the courts numerous time and I have all my documents, but they are completely useless,” she said.

Hanif Loonat, the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum cluster chairperson, bluntly said the community had lost trust in service departments. “The department comes out, listens but takes no action. As we could see, nothing has improved, all they are doing is giving our people hope,” he said.

Advocate Hishaam Mohamed, the provincial head of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, said Mitchell’s Plain had been identified as one of the 16 areas in the Western Cape with a high prevalence of domestic violence. “We know your community is troubled with social ills such as high incidences of violence against women and children, sexual offences, child abuse and gang activity.

“We know that residents in Mitchell’s Plain are unemployed and living off welfare grants and that young children are being recruited into gangs and children are dropping out of school and that young daughters are falling pregnant while at school,” he said.

Mr Mohamed said the department was aware that domestic violence had a devastating impact on residents.

“Let’s ask ourselves why do victims of domestic violence who apply for a protection order against their abusers not return to court to finalise those orders? We are painfully aware of your financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members that has increased your vulnerability to living with domestic violence,” he said.

Mr Mohamed said this is why many victims are reluctant to take action against their abusers. He said after reporting the matter to the police, many complainants withdraw the charges, resulting in the high rate of withdrawals in these cases.

“The fact that they (victims) often stay in abusive relationships hoping for a change, makes them more vulnerable and more exposed to fatal consequences. Most importantly, we know that you fear seeking help as it can increase the risk of more violent attacks and abuse – whether actual or perceived,” he said.

Mitchell’s Plain police station commander Brigadier Cass Goolam said the police are not recovering as many firearms as they should be and urged residents to report illegal firearms.

“We are recovering less than 50 percent of firearms, and we have heard that criminals will be targeting the police and security staff. There has been an increase in heroin use and we are asking people to report drug activity. Community partnership is vital, and currently we are not getting support from residents. So, if we look at it, that’s the biggest problem. Residents stone the police when they arrive, we become the victims. People need to understand that they need to become active citizens – report and work with the police,” he said.

Mr Mohamed said the department would look at the complaints and provide feedback to residents.

“We did that last year and that is why we could come back this year. If there are complaints that need to be addressed we will look into the matters,” he said.