Station used to be ‘housed ‘in Westridge

The former policemen, who worked in Mitchell’s Plain’s first police station, when it was little more than a house in Westridge, have recalled those times.

Retired Colonel Themba Barnies, 58, of Kuils River, used to live in Portland, and he was stationed at 58 Silversands Avenue in 1980, when the neighbourhood was half its current size and crime was very low.

At that time, Beacon Valley, Town Centre, New Woodlands, Eastridge, Tafelsig, Lentegeur, Weltevreden Valley and Mandalay, did not exist.

Mr Barnies worked in Westridge, Woodlands, Rocklands, Portland and Strandfontein mostly.

The house in Silversands Avenue opened as a police station in 1977.

There were few places you could buy alcohol back then, he recalls, and the closest shopping centres were in Claremont.

The week’s crime incidents, he says, he could count on his fingers and gangs had nothing like the power they do today.

He retired as a colonel at Elsies River police station in 2017.

He recalls working closely with Plainsman reporters at the time, Simoné* de Bruin, Fuad Esack and Lynnette Johns.

“We saw them as friends and easy to talk to. The relationship we shared was good.”

Emails did not exist, and reporters would visit the house to collect information.

Retired Captain Peter van Deeman, says police work has changed completely since his days at 58 Silversands Avenue.

“We had complete control of a situation, there was an element of respect for the police; we were tough then.”

It was a different time then, he says.

“People saw police as their protectors. We had a different constitution in the 1980s. Today, police are not respected as they should be. Everything must change. I saw this coming with the transition from apartheid until it ended in 1994.

“As a country, we did not know how to handle the repercussions that came from apartheid. With the new constitution, police were not trained to handle the repercussions. Our policemen were not trained enough to handle what post-apartheid did to our country.”

He says they concentrated on fighting minor crimes back in 1979, not giving the criminals a chance to progress to bigger crimes. That meant no spitting on the ground, urinating in public, swearing in the streets and parking badly.

And if there was a murder, “the community would jump on that wagon” and help the police find the culprit.

Mr Van Deeman retired in 1999 as a captain at Fish Hoek police station. He lived in Tafelsig in the 1980s when, he says, it was safe. He moved to Strandfontein in 1987 and now lives in Bothasig.

While the family who now live at 58 Silversands Avenue did not want to speak to the Plainsman, Susan Smith, 70, who lives at number 49, remembers the close relationship she had with her police neighbours.

Ms Smith – whose late husband, Louis Smith, had been a riot squad reservist – even gave the policemen curtains for their house.

“When their important guests came to the house, be it a captain, inspector or a commander, they would borrow cutlery and crockery from me to make their guests tea and coffee.”