Cape Town - A year since the documentary that stunned Hout Bay was made – and just weeks since its release – many residents say life in the suburb is not under siege after all. And they claim the film is a case of racist fear-mongering.
Behind Paradise painted a shocking picture of crooked cops colluding with criminals who terrorised Hout Bay. But, according to local crime-fighting authorities, crime is down over 50 percent since the film was made, and Hout Bay police are at the top of their game.
The Cape Argus spoke to the new station commissioner to see where he stood on the suburban paradise supposedly held hostage by criminals.
Lieutenant-Colonel Bongani Mtakati’s station is ranked fifth out of 150 in the Western Cape for the best crime prevention.
Mtakati has been in Hout Bay for less than a year, but his first step as station commissioner was to strengthen relationships with Neighbourhood Watch and the Community Policing Forum.
“Our relationship is solid,” he said. “We’ve got operations twice a week with Neighbourhood Watch, and also we have a meeting with them fortnightly where we look at all the crimes in the past two weeks.”
Mtakati said crime was most intense in the poor areas of Hout Bay – not the valley, which was featured in the documentary.
“There are isolated cases in the valley, but most cases are coming from Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg.”
A drive to shut down shebeens in the township had seen a dramatic drop in incidents.
“All our domestic violence and contact crimes in Imizamo Yethu come from shebeens,” Mtakati said. “We had around 180 shebeens, and there are now about eight.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that within the force.
“I’ve got an open-door policy. Anyone with questions must come in and lay their complaints.”
But Behind Paradise director Gordon Clark said the police had “disappointed everybody”.
After 26 years making films in Hollywood, he returned to live in Hout Bay. In September 2012, he was attacked in his home. Clark woke up to a screwdriver being held to his face. Two men hauled him naked out of bed. They repeatedly threatened to kill him. One man reached for Clark’s laptop, and the film-maker took the opportunity to headbutt the other attacker and run.
It inspired an eight-month project to produce a documentary about victims of home invasions in Hout Bay.
The movie was released on YouTube late last month, sparking a controversy that at best opened a discussion about crime and trauma in the valley, and at worst degenerated into threats and mudslinging.
“Why are people attacking people who have already been attacked?” he said. “There’s some kind of ploy to hide crime. This is the secrecy bill of Hout Bay.”
Estate agent Matt Mercer was one of the film’s critics, although he did not watch beyond the trailer. He is the founder of Hout Bay Organised, an online group which promotes activities and property in Hout Bay.
“It does affect property sales. I heard of one guy getting out of a sale because he was so horrified by the movie,” Mercer said. “People are seeing a one-sided view of Hout Bay, and residents are upset by that.”
No one denied there was crime in Hout Bay, but the film only focused on white people in the affluent part of the valley, he said.
“Hundreds of people in Hout Bay are nauseated by it. It felt like fear- mongering, like a commercial for a security company.”
Mercer said that while the crime statistics quoted in the film appeared bad, they were for the whole of Hout Bay and most of that crime occurred in poorer areas such as Imizamo Yethu or Hangberg. “The interviews are all with white people, but crime is mostly happening to black people. It’s inherently racist.”
At the opening of the film, a title card says “Voice Alert presents”, which has caused critics to claim the movie is an advert for the Voice Alert security company.
But Voice Alert owner Michael Smorenburg said the company’s only involvement in making the film was to introduce the director and producer to victims of home invasions.
Producer Peter Sherlock said the government was violating the constitutional right of all South Africans to live free of fear.
“We cannot go on denying that this wave of crime hitting this country is unprecedented.
“Why should we live behind walls and razor fences, not knowing who our neighbours are? We’ve got to hold the cops accountable.”
But Community Policing Forum head Jim McKenna said Hout Bay residents had faith in the police: “Police-bashing seems to be a national pastime. We’ve had a rough time over the past 20 years, but what the movie says about home invasion every third night is a load of rubbish.
“Our crime rate compared to the period in the documentary is down about 50 to 60 percent.”
Neighbourhood Watch head Frith Stables was equally supportive of the police and dismissive of the film.
“I think it was fear-mongering,” she said. “I’ve been with Neighbourhood Watch since 2003, and I’ve never had an encounter with the police when they weren’t supportive.”
Stables said the people interviewed weren’t telling the full story.
“You complain that we have housebreaking, but you choose to leave the window open. There’s a great amount of negligence.”
Home invasions were only life-threatening if the victims were “disobedient”, according to Stables.
“The people who get hurt didn’t do what they were told. If you listen (to the attackers), you will not get injured.”
View the film at www.behindparadise.co.za