Cape Town - Athlone residents scoffed at statistics provided by Athlone police station commander Tjikamba Mbangu about a decrease in some crimes, with the residents saying their lived experiences differed greatly.
The under-reporting of complaints and cases, as well as police inaction were highlighted during a Community Imbizo held in Belgravia High School Hall on Saturday.
About 300 people attended the meeting hosted by the Athlone Community Policing Forum (CPF) and the Athlone police station, and included representatives from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the City’s law enforcement and metro police services, and ward councillors.
“We are losing lives. Where are the police?” was the overwhelming cry of residents, pointing to the lack of police visibility and deployment to key areas.
Many of the residents were part of community safety organisations such as neighbourhood watch groups.
The need for the Department of Social Development to support traumatised children was also raised.
Silvertown resident Grace Bouer said: “The problem we have is what every community has – the drugs, the bus shelters on Klipfontein Road that the community has been asking for years to be knocked down, because that is where prostitution happens, that is where drug deals happen, those bus stops are used for crime. They hide behind those bus stops.
“People defecate there in broad daylight; they don’t care. People are afraid to leave their homes, to go for a walk, to go to the supermarket, whatever it is, there’s gunshots coming from the vlei.
“We are held as hostages in our own homes, and this has been going on for some time now.”
She said the community had lost faith in the police.
“We wouldn’t need this (imbizo) if things were working the way they were supposed to. We’ve got all these departments here. When you look at that, to me it’s like, ‘my word, we are protected as communities’. We shouldn’t be having this meeting because we have all these people here.”
CPF public relations officer Patricia O’Connor said having the various officials present allowed residents to bring their complaints forward so they could be addressed.
Athlone police station spokesperson Zita Norman said an imbizo was held every third quarter.
“We must realise, not just in the Athlone precinct but in all precincts, that crime has escalated. Many of the times, these imbizos are people just coming to vent their feelings, but when asked, ‘have you laid a charge?’ it’s ‘no’. How can we provide a service if you are not coming to report.”
One attendee alleged she had been “chased out” of the police station when reporting a gun had been pointed at her. Another alleged collusion between police officers and suspects, resulting in cases not reaching court.
Norman said contact numbers for herself and the station commanders were made public and they operated on an “open door policy” for any complaints to be lodged.
“If there is any problem, they should contact us and we would address that problem. We are here to serve and we wouldn’t want other members to treat the community badly.”
Athlone Magistrate’s Court senior prosecutor Deidré Rossouw called for witnesses to come forward, while highlighting witness protection. She said case withdrawals were a major issue.
According to recent crime statistics for the first quarter of 2023-2024 (April to June), Athlone police station was 29 in a list of top 30 police stations in the country, in terms of sexual assault complaints.