Durban - CHATSWORTH residents have declared war on criminals who have terrorised them with burglaries, robberies and hijackings.
The criminals have been using a dense nature reserve as an escape route and permanent hideout.
Community Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu called an urgent meeting at the Chatsworth Police Station on Tuesday, to discuss the problem.
Calls have been made for the police’s equestrian unit to be brought in to patrol the Silverglen Nature Reserve, which residents and police said was inaccessible by motorbike or quadbike and proving a nightmare to patrol.
Chatsworth Community Policing Forum chairman Logie Chetty said criminals were “going crazy” and residents were being “hit from all sides”.
Bayview Policing Forum chairman Teddy Govender said the police needed to send a specialised unit trained in bush warfare into the reserve.
“I have been a resident for 35 years or more and I have seen crime spike. Beautiful homes have been abandoned and the crime is now creeping to other areas,” Govender said.
Mchunu said he had been taken to the Pinewood Primary School, which borders the Silverglen Nature Reserve, on an election campaign last week and was “shocked” to find evidence of a “den of criminality” where criminals had left their mattresses and smoking paraphernalia.
“I have not come across that situation in my career,” Mchunu said.
“But what was even shocking is that I was told there were children there and teachers. I do not know how they go about teaching in that environment. The state of the buildings themselves is terrible,” Mchunu said.
Mchunu said the reserve was also being used as a suspected drug trafficking route between uMlazi and Chatsworth.
“There is so much drug trafficking from Chatsworth to uMlazi through this nature reserve and some people who live in uMlazi come and mount (sic) hijackings. They come here on foot and leave in very expensive vehicles,” Mchunu said.
He said he had already spoken to senior provincial police officers about the possibility of permanently deploying an equestrian unit within the nature reserve. However, the unit was patrolling South Africa’s borders and he would have to report back to residents on whether this would be possible.
Mchunu said the SAPS and Metro Police would tomorrow negotiate to deploy the latter’s mounted unit in the reserve as an interim solution.
Mchunu urged local councillors from different political parties to work together to fight crime.
Chatsworth police station commanding officer, Brigadier Conrad Marais, said residents had repeatedly complained that suspects were using the reserve as a hideout.
However, he said the only way police could patrol the dense bush was on foot or on horseback. He said the provincial police commissioner had provided a six-member horse unit to patrol the reserve for a month last June.
“Their presence was very successful and we had a number of arrests and just their presence chased the people away,” Marais said.
Marais said it was unclear at this stage when the unit would be deployed to the area.
Ross Crouch, who has managed the nature reserve for the eThekwini Municipality for the past 10 years, said the forest was of “intrinsic value” to the city due to its high biodiversity of flora and fauna.
He said about 5 000 to 10 000 people commuted through the reserve daily, which provided opportunities for criminals.
“The crime has always been bad in this area but it has gone exponentially out of control in the past six or seven years,” Crouch said.
“We are in a war zone and finding it very difficult to provide a service to the community,” Crouch said.
However, he said crime had dropped to almost zero around the reserve when the mounted police were introduced temporarily. He said his department was liaising with the city’s environmental planning department to assess whether an environmental impact assessment would be necessary for a permanent horse unit.
Pinewood Primary School principal Kay Moodley said the school had been “a haven for criminal activity” and teachers had repeatedly been the victims of armed robberies.
“We have break-ins every year and our school is very cash-strapped,” Moodley said.
She said the school had already had three burglaries this year and her computer, a DVD player and three brush-cutters were stolen.
“There is nothing to steal at my school except books and stationery,” Moodley said.
“We’d like more support from the department and from political parties. We are in our battle all alone,” Moodley said.
Department of Education circuit manager, Lindiwe Myende, said Pinewood School and other Chatsworth schools were battling financially because they were ranked as quintile five schools by the department and did not receive enough financial support from the government. She said parents were too poor to pay school fees.
Anoop Rampersad, chairman of the Croftdene Residents Association, said he was concerned the meeting was just another “talk shop” before elections as residents had been raising the crime issue for years.
“We will wait and see. We don’t want to put our trust in anyone or we will break our heart,” Rampersad said.