Although Mitchell’s Plain’s crime statistics have been widely reported on. When the area was first established crime in the beginning was virtually non-existent. The Plainsman tracked down police officers who were among the first in the area to find out what it was like on the beat back then.
Mitchell’s Plain’s first “police station” was a three-bedroomed house at 58 Silversands Avenue, in Westridge, while the detectives operated from a house in Silvermyn Close, also in Westridge and around the corner from another Mitchell’s Plain landmark, the roadhouse in Silversands Avenue.
The officers described the area back then as quiet, with lovely residents.
“I started working from the Silversands police station in December 1980,” recalls Colonel Themba Barnies, who is a former head of the Mitchell’s Plain police detective branch.
“At that time it was quiet and the area was still small. Crime figures were very low. We were about three members per shift with one patrol vehicle,” said Colonel Barnies, who is currently stationed at Elsies River police station.
He said the community was very supportive and friendly to the police.
“Our neighbours were so supportive and brought us food on Christmas day. Most of the time we were doing foot patrol or using bicycles, so we had ample time to interact with the community. We were visible and that brought the community closer. That is how we created friendly relationship with residents,” said Colonel Barnies.
He said the growth of shebeens in the area kept them busy in the ensuing years.
“One of the things I noticed when I arrived was that there were no bottle stores in the area and that created a market for a few shebeens to be opened which kept us busy from time to time,” said Colonel Barnies.
He said public transport in Mitchell’s Plain was limited to Nyanga station only in the beginning as the railway line was not completed and the Town Centre didn’t exist when Mitchell’s Plain was officially opened in 1976. “Claremont and Cape Town were the main business centres where the banks and bigger shops were,” he explained.
He said he was fortunate to work with senior officers who guided him.
“The police members were like family and looked out for one another. I left Mitchell’s Plain police station in 2004 and transferred to Cape Town Central SAPS. I don’t regret working there. Mitchell’s Plain moulded me and made me excel in terms of my career,” said the father of two.
Colonel Barnies was a Mitchell’s Plain resident himself until the mid-1980s, then moved to Kuils River and by then the area had doubled in size.
Warrant Officer Anthony Appels, who is stationed at Lentegeur police station, also recalls Mitchell’s Plain as a quiet area.
“It was quiet and not so dangerous. Most cases that were reported were cases of assault, break-ins and theft only. I started working in the old police station in 1982. When I arrived, Colonel Barnies and the others were already there. I worked there for more than three years and then I moved to the new police station (Mitchell’s Plain police station in First Avenue), which was established in 1983 and I worked there for 30 years,” he said.
Warrant Officer Appels described the area as interesting. “Mitchell’s Plain is not what people think it is. There are some problems – like any other area,” said Warrant Officer Appels.