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13 July 2011 at 16:51 - Posted by Anonymous

Would you give up your creature comforts to ensure that your neighbourhood is safe at night


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Just after midnight on Sunday, I joined a small group of residents in Lotus River near Grassy Park for their nightly ‘Central Park Neighbourhood Watch’ shift. They are not unlike thousands of other residents across the Cape Peninsula and beyond who take to the streets night after night to ensure that their neighbourhood is safe. It had just gone roughly 12.30am and the air temperature was a chilly 8 or 9 degrees. Bathed in the light of an overhead streetlamp, the small group started proceedings with a prayer with one of their trusty canine side-kicks ‘Blackie’ lying in the middle of the semi-circle, waiting for the patrol to start.

Once the prayer had been said, I was left in the care of a lady called Syra – a forty something housewife who patrols along with her husband, and at times, their daughter. Syra is a no-nonsense type and she tells me how she chastises the young children smoking dagga and harassing customers at the local ‘spaza shop’. Syra joined the Neighbourhood watch because she wants to help create a better life for what she calls the “next generation”.

She also quotes a former Community Safety MEC who was well-known for his initiative to spread the message of ‘my child is your child’. Syra says some residents aren’t too accommodating of the Neighbourhood Watch, because their children are the ones engaged in criminal activities. But she refuses to be side-tracked by any negativity insisting instead that they will continue their work, no matter what.

Like many other Cape Flats neighbourhoods, this one is plagued by drugs and other social ills. Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator Fuad Titus says since their establishment on Heritage Day in 2010, one of the two shebeens in the area has stopped operating. The other still carries on, but it’s running a very low key operation. Titus is also convinced that they’ve dealt a blow to the drug trade, although he admits it’s a lot more difficult to police.

Another big headache for the Neighbourhood Watch is what Syra refers to as the ‘crowded house’ – a dilapidated looking flat that’s frequented by ‘riff raff’ in the area. The landlord has long since absconded, allowing the place to become rundown and a hive of illicit activities like drug abuse and gambling. Just as our patrol is about to kick into gear, the police arrive to conduct a ‘shakedown’ of the place and officers bundle about half a dozen characters into the back of a van. (The same lot come trudging back from the police station about an hour later).

I ask whether the Watch members aren’t concerned that the detainees will turn on them. The response is very matter-of-fact and if any of the members are scared, it’s not evident.

The two hours spent walking about with the Neighbourhood Watch was insightful (despite the frozen toes) .I don’t know that many people in my ‘middle class’ existence who would give up their creature comforts to ensure that their neighbourhood is safe at night. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people I know would argue that’s what SAPS and their security companies are for. I too would probably argue along similar lines,but I am in a position to subscribe to a security company to keep me and my property safe.

The Neighbourhood Watch secretary, 47-year-old Juliette Erasmus doesn’t have that luxury. Erasmus has two daughters, the youngest of which has just left for Pretoria to join the Airforce. I immediately detect the pride in her voice as she tells me about it. But she says she’s also very saddened by it because she’s missing her baby. On the subject of babies, the General Assistant at Victoria Hospital’s theatre department is also raising her sister-in-law’s child. It’s been two years since the mother died, leaving behind a three-day old baby. And if that isn’t enough to leave me completely in awe of the woman, Erasmus is so determined to uplift her community, some nights she’s out on patrol just hours after knocking off from a 12-hour shift at the hospital.

I left the Central Park Neighbourhood Watch members behind after spending what they describe as a ‘quiet’ night out on the streets. I was heading to bed, but for them the night was still far from over. They generally knock off at 3a.m. but if they detect a lot of activity in the area, they continue patrolling, sometimes until sunrise. Some of them crack a joke about the consequences of such long nights on a Sunday morning in church but whether they nod off during the service or not, I’m sure God is smiling on them nonetheless.

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