Khayelitsha’s crime tragedy: Broken promises are breaking the community

The people of the Western Cape's largest township are losing hope that the long-promised new police station will become a reality any time soon.

Khayelitsha police station sign Picture: Lizell Persens/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - A white brick wall, standing at around 1.7 meters high, with the words ‘Makhaza Police Station’ painted in black bold letters - this wall is sometimes referred to as The Wall of Hope.

It can be found erected on a grassy plot of vacant land behind the Desmond Tutu Community Hall in Makhaza in Khayelitsha.

It's called The Wall of Hope because it reminds the community of a promise made to them years ago: to heed their call and build a much-needed police station on that very piece of land.

In 2018, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that the construction of the Makhaza Police Station would take place between 2019 to 2022.

2022 is just six months away and the Social Justice Coalition's (SJC) Khensani Motileni said there was still no sign of construction on that piece of land.

“What we currently do is that whenever we have a workshop or a police resources campaign, we have it on the site and it was actually quite sad,” said Motileni.

“We had a workshop in April and we actually asked the community members in attendance if they knew that this piece of land is where the police station is actually supposed to be built, and most of them were not aware.”

Motileni said the rate at which people were illegally occupying vacant plots of land in Khayelitsha was high and this was a serious concern.

“If nothing is really done timeously, the state could lose that land or people could occupy that land, which is then going to be another issue that would need to be solved, which might also delay further the building of the Makhaza Police Station.

“So, at one point, Makhaza was third on the list of priority police stations that needed to be built in the country, now we are suddenly number six.”

POLICE HOTSPOT

National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole recently told Eyewitness News that Khayelitsha was one of the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) hotspot areas.

When asked about plans to build the station in Makhaza, Sitole had this to say:

“Just to confirm, it’s high priority on our policing agenda. Secondly, it’s one of the top six police stations which has been outstanding, that needs to be operationalised this financial year.

“The question was trying to establish whether there is budget reserved for it. Yes, with instructions and it’s monitored so that it becomes operational. I think Khayelitsha is our priority hotspot.”

The Police Ministry has confirmed the Makhaza Police Station is currently in the planning and design phase and the site clearance has been finalised.

The process of the appointment of consultants for the preparation of the tender documentation has been initiated.

The planning and design process is scheduled to be finalised in August 2022 and the tender will only then be advertised for the appointment of a contractor to start with construction.

Even if those timelines are adhered to, it's unlikely the people of Makhaza will get the peace of mind they so desperately need before 2023.

2014 COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

The construction of a new police station in Makhaza as a matter of urgency was one of 20 recommendations made following the 2014 Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry.

It recommended that building the Makhaza Police Station should have resulted in a considerable increase in SAPS resources in the greater Khayelitsha community and not merely a reallocation of personnel from Harare to Makhaza.

The commission was beset by delays, including a court challenge to stop it. It took years to complete and cost well over R13 million, but the evidence led there shone a halogen light on the lived experience of those in Khayelitsha.

In August 2012, then-Premier Helen Zille appointed the commission to probe allegations of police inefficiency and a breakdown in relations between the SAPS and the community of Khayelitsha.

The commission, led by Justice Catherine O'Regan and Advocate Vusumzi Pikoli, had its work delayed for about a year by a court application challenging the commission's establishment and powers.

The matter was dismissed in the Constitutional Court in October 2013, and the task at hand resumed with two phases of public hearings over a period of about 40 days.

More than 100 witnesses testified before the commission.

A DIFFICULT PLACE TO POLICE

The commission found policing in Khayelitsha to be profoundly challenging and that deep levels of poverty, poor levels of infrastructure and very high crime rates made the Western Cape's largest township a particularly difficult place for the SAPS to operate.

It uncovered sweeping inefficiencies at the three Khayelitsha police stations: Lingelethu West, Site B and Harare, as well as at the Khayelitsha Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Investigations (FCS) Unit.

It ascertained there were no established guidelines for patrols of informal neighbourhoods, police made no effective use of the CCTV cameras located in Khayelitsha for the purpose of prevention and detection of crime, and police failed to comply with the obligations imposed upon it by the Domestic Violence Act in relation to incidents of domestic violence in Khayelitsha.

The commission also concluded there was a breakdown in relations between the residents and SAPS members stationed in Khayelitsha - characterised by a significant level of distrust among members of the community.

It also offered solutions and recommendations.

That was seven long years ago.

“None of them have borne fruit, unfortunately. Literally, everything that was recommended has not been done, nor have active steps been taken to ensure that the 20 recommendations are implemented,” lamented the SJC’s Motileni.

LIVING IN CONSTANT FEAR

A Makhaza resident, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for her safety, said she moved to the province from the Eastern Cape in 2013, and shortly after her arrival, she was robbed for the first time in her life.

She said police were not visible enough in the area.

“I don't feel safe at all. Walking in the streets, you need to be so careful. Most of the time, I don't walk alone.”

She said that her closest police station was Harare and she needed to take a taxi to get there, something which many residents could not afford – they’d rather spend their R24 on something to fill their stomachs instead of using it to seek the police’s help.

“Imagine if you don’t have money, then you’ll have to wait a day or two if you don’t have the means to get there. A return will be R24. It’s R12 there and R12 back,” she said.

Another woman described how she was robbed while six months pregnant, saying while being robbed, victims could shout and scream, but others would be too afraid to come to their aid.

“My biggest fear is when I go to work early in the morning. Sometimes I don’t even get there when I'm supposed to, by 8 o’clock because it’s dark, you’re so scared if you're going to the taxi. If you’re going to get robbed, they may take your cellphone.”

Site C resident Sibusiso Mdlankomo said that despite being a grown man, he lived in constant fear of being robbed or murdered, adding he could not imagine what it must be like for women who had to face the prospect of gender-based violence.

“Women are humans and they deserve to be protected. I think what really needs to be done is we as men must train our younger brothers, the next generation, to respect and protect women.”

RISE IN VIGILANTISM

Seven years after the commission of inquiry, Mdlankomo said that he believed that the relationship between the community and police had worsened. He said that high crime levels had resulted in residents taking the law into their own hands.

“We know that Site C is a hotspot, but you’ll find there’s still a lack of police visibility. You’ll find that people have resolved to taking the law into their own hands by practicing vigilantism and that’s mainly because they’ve lost hope in police, they don’t trust the police.”

And at this point, Motileni said that there was no prospect of restoring the relationship between the community and the SAPS, saying that residents approached the SJC on a daily basis asking members to accompany them to the police station to report a crime.

SEXUAL OFFENCES UNDER-REPORTED

“When the minister presented the crime stats two weeks ago, he was priding himself in the drop in reports of sexual offences. That is not a victory,” Motileni said.

“Does he realise that the reason for the decrease is that people are actually not reporting these cases? The relationship between the police and community has broken down and at this point, there is no prospect of restoration. The Khayelitsha Commission mentioned that the police must respect people and must attend to their needs with utmost dignity, but none of that is being done.”

In March this year, a rape survivor tried to report a case of sexual assault at the Site B Police Station, but an officer allegedly showed the woman the door and told her to investigate her own complaint.

Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz has now called for an urgent investigation by the Western Cape Police Ombudsman.

In a statement, Fritz said the woman apparently went to the police the day after she was allegedly sexually assaulted and, according to a report, an officer recording her statement told her that she looked too relaxed and did not look like someone who had been through a traumatic experience.

The woman and her friend were then reportedly told to establish her attacker’s whereabouts and trap him so the police could arrest him. But they refused and said the suspect was a dangerous man.

Fritz said that the incident was indicative of why many rape victims did not report the crimes.

Motileni said that they heard these horror stories far too often.

“There was a young lady who came to us early in the year to say that she was raped and she then went to the police station and was told that she wasn’t at the right station, she must go to another.

“Apparently she was driven there and on her way back, she was dropped on the side of the road and then she was raped again while making her way home.”

‘IF YOU’RE AN EYEWITNESS, YOU ARE DEAD ALREADY’

A Mandela Park resident spoke to Eyewitness News under the cloak of anonymity and explained how she was almost raped by a group of men while walking to the toilet at around 9pm. Because there were no streetlights, she couldn’t see the men's faces clearly.

“When going back to my house, I see two guys in front of me and another two at the back. When you grow up in the ghetto, you know the lingo they are speaking and you know when they are ready to attack. I started to run and they ran after me until I got to my house. They just disappeared.”

As was the case with this resident, several residents told Eyewitness News that they didn't intervene when they saw someone getting attacked.

“There are so many people who are experiencing a trauma of witnessing things that are happening to people and things that are very, very painful. But they can't come forward because they know what is going to happen. Once you are an eyewitness, you are dead already.”

This woman managed to escape, but scores of other women have not been so lucky.

TOO MANY VICTIMS

On 1 March 2016, Sinoxolo Mafevuka left her home at around 7:45pm to go to a communal toilet some 200 metres from her home.

She never made it back to her family.

The 19-year-old was raped and left to die, half-naked, her face jammed under a toilet seat.

In 2005, Treatment Action Campaign activist Nandipha Makeke was raped and shot dead. Her attackers dumped her in a toilet, head first.

The SJC says the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry illustrated that an estimated 81% of residents in informal settlements felt unsafe when using communal services such as toilets at night.

It said informal settlements were a breeding ground for gender-based violence and this, combined with a failing police system, created and maintained a community that was deadly for poor black women.

Hate crimes are also still prevalent in the township as members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue to walk around with targets on their backs.

Earlier this month 24-year-old Phelokazi Ndlwana was stabbed to death in Site C.

Just over a year ago in Enkanini, 16-year-old Liyabona Mabishi was stabbed 13 times, allegedly because she was a lesbian. She died before reaching the local hospital.

There are so many Sinoxolos and Liyabonas. Too many.

The long list of women and young girls sexually assaulted and murdered by ruthless men in Khayelitsha is hard to keep track of.

At the time of the commission of inquiry, the commanders of the three stations in Khayelitsha admitted they had too few SAPS members at their police stations.

Eyewitness News this week asked Western Cape SAPS how many officers were stationed at the three police stations in Khayelitsha.

Police said operational figures such as the staff complement of police stations could not be disclosed to the media. The response further read:

“It will suffice to say that an adequate number of police officers are deployed in the greater Khayelitsha area to provide a sufficient policing service to the community.”

Like Motileni and the other residents who spoke to Eyewitness News, the Khayelitsha Development Forum's (KDF) Ndithini Tyhido did not agree with this assessment.

“I disagree with that. It can't be the same answer they are giving alongside a lack of resources, a lack of police vans."

Tyhido said since COVID-19 hit, between March 2020 and March this year, at least 13 new informal settlements had sprung up amid land invasions in Khayelitsha.

“There reside people that need to be policed somehow, regardless of how they occupied the places they are in. Still this impacts on policing."

He said because of the ongoing land invasions, it was difficult to keep track of Khayelitsha's population, but that the KDF roughly estimated it to stand at around 1.2 million people, but that the number could be even higher.

Tyhido also weighed in on the delay in building the Makhaza Police Station, saying the community had been fighting for this for many, many years.

“It is a really sore point for us, a disappointing thing. We have spoken to a number of police ministers before General Cele.

“We spoke to Nathi Mthethwa, Nathi Nhleko, Fikile Mbalula about the same exact thing. What's most disappointing is that every financial year, the Makhaza Police Station is somewhere on the list of top five priority police stations to be built in the Western Cape,” said Tyhido.

“But for some mysterious reason, it keeps drifting down while the murder rate keeps going up.”

THE ROLE OF ALCOHOL ABUSE

The commission concluded the abuse of alcohol was a key driver of violent crime in Khayelitsha.

At the time, the commission heard there were apparently 1,400 illegal taverns (or shebeens) in the township and 35 licensed outlets.

The Western Cape Liquor Authority (WCLA) recently shared with Eyewitness News the latest database of liquor licence holders, which are ordered by area.

It shows 138 establishments in Khayelitsha currently have valid licences.

The WCLA's Compliance and Enforcement Unit said it was aware of at least 300 illegal liquor outlets in Khayelitsha, but there may be more than that operating at a much smaller scale.

When Cele presented the country's quarterly crime statistics, reflecting crimes that occurred between January and March this year, he said alcohol abuse was the albatross around the SAPS’s neck.

While all cases of assault had decreased by over 9%, there were still more than 75,000 cases of common assault and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm (assault GHB) opened with the police between January and March this year.

In more than 2,800 incidents of assault GBH, it was confirmed that alcohol was consumed either by the victim or the perpetrator, or both.

Statistics also revealed that more than 2,000 of these incidents took place at either a bar, a night club, a tavern or a shebeen. Cele said some communities had more taverns compared to any other establishment, including churches and schools combined.

The statistics further showed that among South Africa's top 30 police stations in the murder category, Khayelitsha was in fourth place, followed by Mfuleni, Kraaifontein, Delft and Nyanga. For robbery with aggravating circumstances, Khayelitsha was in third place.

EXTORTION RACKETS

Another serious crime the Khayelitsha community is grappling with is that of extortion.

Earlier this month, 13 people were shot dead and five were seriously wounded in different parts of the community.

Extortion rackets are being blamed for the bloodbath.

Police arrested 11 suspects at a Sea Point hotel shortly after the spate of gun violence.

Business owners, including those who run vegetable stands, salons, car washes and even daycare centres told Eyewitness News how they had no choice but to pay protection money to extortionists at the end of each month as their lives were threatened.

Even residents, old and young, are targeted for protection fees.

A resident and business owner shared his experience.

“Last month, they came and asked for R350, but I refused. They were rushing me, and I gave them R100 and they left.”

Acting provincial police commissioner Thembisile Patekile visited the community following the violence.

“This requires the whole of society, firstly the community knows who the criminals are in the community. If we all get involved, we will win this if we work together. Of course, on our part as police in crime combatting, we are going to continue to be more visible on the street.”

However, the problem is that residents are scared of being labelled a tattletale or "impimpi". Those who spoke to Eyewitness News said that although police promised that tip-offs would be handled anonymously, some way, somehow, the criminals always found out, and then they were as good as dead.

Meanwhile, the fight by the Social Justice Coalition to hold the powers that be accountable, continues, with their SJC Vs. Minister of Police, Police Resources case still before the Constitutional Court.

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