Cape Town - The “Field of Death” was one of Cape Town’s crime hot spots that the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry was shown during in loco inspections on Wednesday.
“This is the execution place. If you do something wrong, whatever you do, we bring you here and arrest you… there is rape and robbery here in the area… so people are just sick and tired of it,” said single mother Thobeka Mhlawuli.
Commissioners Kate O’Regan and Vusi Pikoli and advocates involved in the inquiry were shown the field at the Enkanini informal settlement.
On Wednesday, the commission was told by community members in Enkanini that kangaroo court hearings occurred regularly and on an organised basis.
The commission visited Enkanini, an informal settlement along Baden Powell Drive, because it had been identified as one of the worst spots for vigilante action.
Speaking to the commission in an open field where most of the vigilante attacks have taken place, resident Mpumi Fani said when a suspected robber or thief was caught they were tied up and the community committee would call a public meeting to discuss their punishment.
He said if the suspect was caught during the day, when most residents were at work, a meeting would be held when they returned.
The suspect was kept in a secure place, usually an unoccupied shack.
“If the thug hurt someone when robbing them or holds them at gunpoint, the community doesn’t hesitate, they get killed,” Fani said.
But if the “thug” had stolen without violence they were beaten with sjamboks and sticks, he said.
Asked why they did not call the police when they caught a suspect, Fani said the response time was slow and sometimes police never arrived.
He said it was impossible to prevent angry residents from attacking suspected criminals.
Another resident, Lindile Dyantyi, who is also a member of the committee, told the Cape Times that every year more than 50 alleged criminals were badly injured, beaten to death or set alight.
“Since I have been here from 2006, I would say there had been more than 50 incidents a year where thugs are beaten up by community members.
“It is not a good thing to beat someone for a small thing like a phone, but the community has had enough of these thugs,” Dyantyi said.
He said in some instances the community removed criminals from the area by forcing their families to send them to the Eastern Cape.
The commission was shown another open field, behind Kuyasa train station, where three men were set alight in 2012 for allegedly stealing a generator from a church.
In Site B, the commission visited Thandazo Road which has been described as a hot spot for muggings.
A resident, who did not want to be named, said a part of the street intersecting with Bida Crescent was a meeting place for youth gangs.
“There is a camera (CCTV) here but we don’t know whether it works or not because when these kids start stabbing each other on the road the police never respond. Even when residents call they come only when the fighting has stopped,” the resident of U-Section said.
She said residents had recently formed street committees to patrol the area.
“We don’t see police here, so we basically have to fight for ourselves. They never come. They only come when the crimes are finished and done, so what’s the use of them?”
Mhlawuli said she had witnessed many community arrests, “prosecutions” and executions carried out by angry and frustrated residents on the field.
Asked what would make her stop supporting vigilante actions, she said “more police visibility”.
“When they come here they only go to the shebeens to close them and then they leave. They don’t walk around, see things, do patrols, and stay and watch.”
Several other hot spots were visited.
Social Justice Coalition community support officer Welcome Makele led the commission to Harare Park, where he told them gang violence was prevalent.
“There’s lots of gangsters here and the police are aware of that. Nothing has improved here and this area is still dangerous,” he said.
“They are shooting with lots of guns, there is robbery, and they are stabbing people.”
Makele’s job includes accompanying crime victims to police stations to help them open cases against criminals.
At one of the stops in Ilitha Park, another open field was shown to commissioners.
“The kids are going to school when they get robbed here and the workers who go to the train station in the early hours of the morning get robbed here,” he told the commission.
At the corner of Thandazo Drive and Bida Crescent, the commission was greeted by more community members, who complained of police inefficiency, despite a CCTV camera installed overhead.
“This road is the meeting point for the school gangsters when they fight at this junction,” Makele said.
A man living on the corner, who refused to be named for fear of retaliation by criminals, said robbers frequented the spot to target people on their way to and from work.
The commission’s hearings start in Khayelitsha on Thursday.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille established the inquiry in August 2012 after receiving numerous complaints about police inefficiency in Khayelitsha.