Cape Town - Hundreds of Walking Bus members marched to the offices of Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis after the City disbanded the initiative and replaced it with a protection force to guard municipal workers providing services in the communities.
The initiative was started by mothers in gang-ridden communities to protect their children from gangsters while walking to school. The Walking Bus mothers gained international attention. Then Dan Plato, former Community Safety MEC took over the project, promising money and equipment, something he continued to do when he took over as mayor in 2016.
Members who belonged to the protection force have accused Hill-Lewis of replacing their community initiative with a force that discriminates against their 2 700 members.
Close to 200 members from the 70 areas where the project was implemented demonstrated in front of the City offices, demanding to address Hill-Lewis on the requirements of the new Facility Protection Officers and security escort initiative which the City revealed on Monday.
In 2016 the Walking Bus project was incentivised by Plato but this ended in December last year. The City said with the new unit it aimed to professionalise the former Walking Bus programme by giving qualified applicants better security training and equipment, and a broader scope of duties in the community.
Through this, the teams would help in protecting service delivery crews including water, fire, electricity, sanitation and cleaning crews in identified crime hot spots across the city.
While the City acknowledged that the project would have few positions available, it encouraged the former Walking Bus members, who met the requirements, to apply.
However, the members raised concerns over these fewer positions available, the requirements for the vacancies, and the application process.
Denver Paiyo from the Manenberg Walking Bus said more than 80% of the members from the former project would not qualify for the initiative.
“This is robbing those seniors who are the initial founders of this Walking Bus project. Initially, we didn’t see this as a job opportunity but as a need within the community. We all come from gang-infested areas and we decided to stand up.
“When the City took over the initiative it brought hope and light to many individuals and households of the unemployed – especially for those who did not have formal education and working experience,” he said.
Nazeema Abrahams from Mitchells Plain Walking Bus said one of their demands was that no member from the former project would be left behind.
“The crime in our areas dropped. The gangsters respect us when they see these bibs and our kids know they can run to us because they feel safe. In hot spots, fewer people were robbed. Why now should people apply to be on this project? Our eldest member is 80 and she loves what she is doing. We stand in the rain and sun and we never complain because we are there for the love of our children,” she said.
Heideveld Walking Bus supervisor Vanessa Adriaanse said if the Neighbourhood Watch and the former Walking Bus initiatives had no age restriction, then this must be the case for all City safety projects.
“Most communities rely on the Walking Bus to escort children to and from school and in high-risk areas. They go beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety of the entire community and not just the safety of the children. We will fight this up to Constitutional Court because this is violating us as a citizen.
“The Walking Bus and its members are going nowhere, with compensation or not. We will have this initiative and it will be us and no one else,” she said.
The City said the groups were previously communicated with about the end date of the Walking Bus project. It said the new unit would be professionally managed, with clear performance targets, clear appointment processes, longer contracts and better payment.