Pretoria – A clean and well-functioning inner city goes a long way to restoring confidence in its ability to attract investment. However, crime and grime in the city's CBD affected the reputation of the capital in a very bad way.
Police spokesperson Captain Augustinah Selepe said this often made visitors reluctant to frequent the city centre.
Selepe said there were problematic hot spots, but patrollers always went around trying to minimise the crime.
Handbag and cellphone snatching plus attacks on motorists in parking areas or at traffic lights were among the most common crimes.
But executive mayor Solly Msimanga said the city had established an inner-city depot to ensure the rejuvenation and revitalisation of the CBD.
The mayor admitted that the inner city had in recent times fallen prey to littering and a general state of uncleanliness owing to a multitude of reasons.
“Just this past weekend, there have been visible efforts to restore the city’s cleanliness. This will go some way to enhance its image and instil confidence in the capital as a city that is clean, safe, efficient and open for business,” Msimanga said.
“This inner-city depot is not only limited to restoring the city’s cleanliness but it will also ensure that the area is safe for the people who commute and already do business in the capital.
“We want to attract investment. We want this city to be a place where people can play, live and work”
Bringing all the elements together – including safety and infrastructure, and better leveraging of the traffic sector – would go a long way to furthering the strides already made in bringing about the change residents needed so desperately, he said.
City Improvement District worker Oscar Nyalunga said the crime in the city centre put them under a lot of pressure. He said they dealt with various acts of crime every day, including shoplifters, card skimmers and pick-pocketing by “nyaope boys”.
The criminals were stubborn and returned as soon as the workers turned their backs to attend to other acts of crime, he said. “Community safety and cleanliness is a priority to us,” he said.
Pedestrians and motorists also shared their tale of fear, saying they went about their business wary of impending crime and scared of being mugged.
Other inner-city patrollers said they were kept busy by the thugs' reign of terror on unsuspecting victims.
They witnessed crime committed both by nyaope smokers and well-dressed people you would ordinarily trust, they said.
Those who presented themselves as respectable members of society were mostly responsible for card-skimming and other white-collar crime, they said.
Keneilwe Seloma, 18, said she prayed for safety every day before making her way to school in the CBD. “I feel extremely intimidated by the criminals on the streets,” she said.
“If it was up to me, I would say the pathways should be expanded because I am short, and the crowd always swallows me. That’s when these guys take advantage.”
Peabo Moeketsi works in the city centre, and became a victim of crime in November last year. He was among people queuing for a bus when a group of men approached them and were friendly with everyone.
Women in the queue discovered stuff missing from their bags, while men had wallets and cellphones picked from their pockets, he said.
“We were at the bus stop next to the Reserve Bank, and we greeted them,” Moeketsi said. “The men started chatting with us. They had a quick chat with us and a few minutes after they left I realised my phone and wallet were also gone.”
Moeketsi said a situation like that was very painful and stressful and left the victim traumatised.
People should avoid talking to strangers and always keep an eye on their belongings, he said.
It was the need both for drugs and envy for the beautiful things others had that drove drug abusers to commit crime, he said.
A nyaope smoker by the name of Happy said he did crime for a living.
“The youth of today have a strong desire for beautiful things, but cannot afford them. So for me crime became the only way to get them,” he said.
His life of crime allowed him to get what he wanted. “At least I can buy food and drugs.”
He said he sometimes felt pity for the people who became victims of crime, because at the back of his mind he knew that the life he lived was not normal.
Ouma Smit, another inner-city worker, said: “Druggies steal from the people whose cars they help park.
"They grab what they can before the car doors are locked. They attack us at traffic lights, snatching jewellery from our ears and round our necks,” she said.
Smash and grab was one of the biggest crimes encountered by motorists, who were attacked as they waited for the traffic lights to turn green.
“A slightly open window is seen as an opportunity to snatch what they can, and these boys are so fast you never see them approach,” said Nicole Hambare.
She said she was left bleeding when her fake diamond earrings were ripped from her ears.
HOW TO KEEP SAFE IN THE CITY
Be alert at all times.
Keeping valuables out of sight.
Criminals have ways of opening the boot of your car, so if possible nothing should be left there.
Refrain from using their gadgets, like cellphones, when walking in the streets. This attracts criminals and serves to make you vulnerable.
Avoid talking to strangers.
Keep bags, cellphones and other possessions close to yourone’s person.body when walking in the street.