The Johannesburg skyline. File picture: Cara Viereckl
Johannesburg - The Joburg CBD and its surrounding suburbs are being turned into a fortress where it seems no one can stir without Big Brother watching - and residents have mixed feelings about this new development.

Security company Vumacam has in the past 12 months installed 889 CCTV cameras in over 48 northern suburbs, including Melville, Dunkeld, Craighall Park, Bryanston, Emmarentia, Morningside and Illovo.

Vumacam managing director Ashleigh Parry said the company was building a R500 million citywide camera network, and ultra high-definition footage would be offered to security companies and ultimately law enforcement agencies.

The company plans to roll out 15000 cameras across the city, with much of the work expected to be completed in the next 12 months.

The cameras have a licence plate recognition facility that enables them to scan cars and check multiple databases of vehicles, including those listed as stolen and having forged licence plates by the SAPS.

According to Parry, Dunkeld has experienced a 90% drop in crime since the CCTV cameras were installed.

However, she conceded that the company’s camera network could not be rolled out in townships such as Soweto at present because not enough private security companies were operating in those areas.

Parry said the company operated in accordance with the Protection of Personal Information Act, which regulates the processing of personal information by public and private bodies.

Potential clients were thoroughly vetted before the company signed agreements with them.

“We respect your privacy and take the protection of personal information very seriously. The purpose of this policy is to describe the way that we collect, store, use, and protect information that can be associated with you or another specific person,” said Parry.

In public areas such as parks, cameras were installed only at their entrances so as not to infringe on the privacy of families during outings.

Cameras were also not directed into private homes, she said.

Meanwhile, some residents of 7th Street in Melville had mixed feelings about the cameras. Rae Wilmot, who works at Bookdealers, said the crime rate did not decrease in the area since they were installed.

In November last year a man stole children’s books from the bookstore.

“I requested to see video footage for that day and specific times. I was never able to see it,” said Wilmot, who later took a different position in a WhatsApp message, saying: “They (security company) did come back but couldn’t find the chap on the footage. We feel it’s very good to have the cameras.” Another resident, Mathabiso Mokwena, who works as a waiter at IT Corner, said the cameras did not helpe to reduce crime in the area, especially at night.

“We see a lot of smash and grabs at night. Most of these criminals drive cars without number plates,” said Mokwena.

However, Zee Zwane, who works at a local night club, welcomed the installation of the cameras, saying she felt safer in Melville than she did in the township where she lives.

The head of #MakeSASafe and vice-president of Crime Stoppers International, Yusuf Abramjee said the cameras might help the police and security firms in their efforts to fight crime.

“It is a deterrent. However, criminals use cloned vehicle plates these days and that makes it difficult to track them. Nevertheless, it’s excellent for surveillance and could well be effective, as long as it does not invade one’s privacy.”

The Sunday Independent