Johannesburg - Desperate Reiger Park residents have pleaded with President Jacob Zuma to address the crime in their community – or else they will take the law into their own hands.
The death of 4-year-old Taegrin Morris, whose mother watched helplessly as he was dragged alongside her hijacked car on Saturday night, has sparked outrage in the tightly-knit community, with threats to kill anyone related to the case.
The horrifying incident was a step too far for hundreds of residents who gathered to protest outside the local police station on Monday – the death of Taegrin being yet another example of the severity of the crime terrorising this Ekurhuleni community.
Last May, Zuma visited Eldorado Park, south of Joburg, another community ravaged by drugs and violence. He initiated a government intervention that altered the way in which the community was policed and provided some hope to residents who felt the siutuation was beyond saving.
This came after Dereleen James wrote a letter to Zuma in which she documented her struggle to get her son off crystal meth, a drug known as “tik”.
But with gang violence plaguing Reiger Park and criminals allegedly back on the streets shortly after their arrests, the community has threatened to take matters into their own hands if justice was not seen to be done for Taegrin – and unless the president himself conducted a similar intervention in their community.
On Monday, provincial police spokeswoman Colonel Noxolo Kweza confirmed that no arrests had been made, but said a man had been brought in for questioning. She said he was not a suspect.
Despite being told by station commander Lieutenant-Colonel Sipho Mathebula that someone was being questioned, the angry mob outside the station threatened to kill him if he was released.
“When this man is locked up today, tomorrow he will be back on the streets,” screamed Shenita Scorie at Mathebula. “This is the law of Reiger Park. If (the hijackers) are released, we will kill them.”
Mathebula tried to calm the crowd, but the threats kept coming.
Standing beside them was Taegrin’s aunt, Rosline Kok, despondent as the rest of her community shouted down the police officers.
She and a close friend of the Morris family, Diane de Gama, said Zuma had to address crime in the community, because the police could no longer handle the gangs and drugs that had taken over.
This sentiment was echoed by other residents, who shouted “Where is Zuma?”.
Asked if Zuma would consider visiting Reiger Park, his spokesman, Mac Maharaj, redirected inquiries to the office of Gauteng Premier David Makhura. Maharaj said former premier Nomvula Mokonyane had been key in last year’s push for the president to visit Eldorado Park.
Makhura’s spokeswoman, Nino Zama, said that while there were no concrete plans or requests for the president to visit the community, the premier himself was planning his own intervention to address the drug and crime problem.
Makhura visited the family on Monday, spending more than an hour expressing his condolences over his senseless killing.
“I have ordered police to step up their investigations into this young boy’s death. This act was heartless. Dragging a small boy for kilometres shows they could have been under the influence of drugs, as we know the community has a drug problem,” the premier said.
The Morris family’s spokesman, Grant Esterhuizen, said Taegrin’s parents, Chantel and Elwin, had identified his body on Monday.
Esterhuizen said Chantel was relieved the child’s face was mostly unharmed, and that an open-casket funeral was still an option.
But this was small comfort for the grieving mother, who wept throughout the day.
Esterhuizen said Taegrin’s memorial service would take place in the community hall at 6pm on Thursday.