DURBAN -We have a lockdown. Tonight, almost 1000 men and women across Durban will take to the streets from 8pm to 10pm in a region-wide operation to “lock down” the city.

Entrances and exits to suburbs, as well as intersections, will be manned and patrols will be intensified in a show of force by residents who aim to make criminals have second thoughts, even at this time of heavy load shedding.

It will take effect from as far south as Pennington in the neighbouring Ugu District Municipality, to eThekwini’s northern area of Verulam, and inland to Hillcrest.

“The lockdown will make history as all organisations involved in creating safer communities will work together to put a stop to criminal activity,” said Zaid Noor, the co-ordinator of Operation Lockdown and a member of crime-fighting organisation eThekwini Secure who is also chairperson of the Asherville community policing forum.

Any suspicious activity will be reported to the police, he added.

“For a month, we’ve been planning for all parties to come together for a common cause. We want to show what can be achieved when we work together.

“We will compare stats for criminal activities that happened before the lockdown and look at the impact of the lockdown.

“I’m certain it will show zero percent for criminal incidents during the lockdown and in this way, we will know we are making a difference,” said Noor.

At last count, more than 50 areas had signed up teams of around 15 members each and this number kept growing, he said.

“In Verulam alone, we have 100 vehicles which have been signed up for the patrols.

“People who have signed up will wear a reflective vest and carry a torch, and while no cars will be stopped and searched, if a vehicle is thought to be suspicious, it will be reported to the police.”

While police were not forthcoming with comment about their involvement, Noor said they had been informed of the initiative in their respective areas.

“Security companies and other relevant departments are all aware of and support the effort.

“Criminals won’t be able to take a chance while we are out,” he said.

He said the initiative would also provide an opportunity for people, especially neighbours, to get to know one another.

“In one case, the son-in-law of a resident was hijacked and when he went to a neighbour for help, the neighbour was reluctant to get involved because he didn’t know who the man was.

“This is why we need people to know each other.”

“Back in the day, people used to peep through the curtains to see what was going on. Nowadays, we feel it’s rude, but in some ways it’s a good thing to know what is going on.” 

Noor said he hoped the model of the lockdown would be used more often by different communities to ensure visible policing and the patrolling of roads to deter criminals.

Nikki Moolman of Kloof community policing forum said load shedding had affected already stretched police budgets since they had to spend unbudgeted amounts on diesel to feed generators as load shedding increased.

“CPFs have evolved so much,” she said. In 2012, they were about looking after our neighbourhoods. Now they’re about looking after KwaZulu-Natal. That’s how under-resourced the police are. It’s not fair on them.” 

Satish Dhupelia, communications officer for the Sydenham CPF, said load shedding was having a major impact on some areas.

“We have seen an increase in hijackings and housebreakings as there is poor lighting and people have to manually open driveway gates, making them vulnerable,” he said.

Chatsworth CPF chairperson Jakes Singh said the lockdown would generate awareness of visible policing among communities.

“High visibility shows the criminals that we are watching, and we invite residents to come along and join a patrol. We have a strict code of conduct in place which must be adhered to during the lockdown.

“We want to highlight that unity among the community does help in the fight against crime,” said Singh, adding that they did not want it to 
be a one-off event, but the start of more community participation in regular patrols.

Co-ordinating the lockdown in Chatsworth, Zain Kassim, the chairperson of the Crossmoor CPF and a Chatsworth Secure representative, said there would be patrols along the entry and exit points for each sub-forum 
area in Chatsworth, as well as on Higginson Highway.

“We previously introduced patrols on Friday nights and crime had become minimal on those nights, which showed that visible policing does work,” he said.

Further north, lockdown co-ordinator for Umgeni Park Allen Brink said his personal opinion was that people should think about how long it would take before the entire electricity grid shut down.

Brink said it was important for people to be able to stand up to opportunistic criminals.

The chairperson of the Phoenix CPF, Umesh Singh, said while some of its members might join the lockdown, its CPF would not take part.

“Although it is an excellent initiative, in terms of planning and overall safety of the public, the CPF cannot take responsibility.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal associate professor: criminology and forensic studies Nirmala Gopal said such campaigns could have an impact on crime awareness and reporting since the community would see themselves as part of the solution.

“In a democracy like ours, we do not create enough spaces for citizen participation in the fight against crime, so this is actually a good initiative. 

“But it cannot and should not be an event – it should happen frequently with a vision that is clearly articulated to the community.

She added that research had shown that visible policing reduced particular categories of crime such as petty theft, public violence and pickpocketing.

“It is time that South African citizens give ‘police permission to be policed’ for the police to understand and engage in the police-public partnership. It is imperative that the public trust the police and see their role as one of safety and security and not of power over citizens.”

Independent On Saturday