Phoenix community barricade a road to prevent looters from entering the community. Picture: KZN VIP - Phoenix Crime Watch
Phoenix community barricade a road to prevent looters from entering the community. Picture: KZN VIP - Phoenix Crime Watch

Stern warnings to scared citizens, businesses to remove barricades slammed

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Jul 15, 2021

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Cape Town – DA state security spokesperson Dianne Kohler Barnard on Thursday highlighted with incredulity certain authorities issuing “stern warnings and threats’’ to innocent citizens reeling from the anarchy that has reigned in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

Kohler Barnard’s ‘’favourite of the moment’’ is the mayor of eThekwini, Mxolisi Kaunda, ‘’who welcomed the protests, called for the release of Zuma, and has now ordered citizens to take down the barricades protecting their homes and businesses’’.

‘’The community has answered with one voice: No. Actually, the response is universally ruder than that, but ’no’ will suffice here. If it weren’t for the citizens themselves, along with the heroic private security companies, the damage to KZN would have been far, far greater.’’

With the police understaffed and the effect of the SANDF deployment yet to be felt, some residents in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – and even other parts of the country like Cape Town, where there has been no civil unrest – Community Policing Forums (CPFs) and Neighbourhood Watches are still patrolling their areas, even though the looting and violence has subsided. This has, in some instances, raised questions about the right of community patrollers to stop and search people who pose no visible threat – sometimes being guilty of ’’racial profiling’’ – and preventing them from entering an area.

Reports have also surfaced how the police are generally making CPFs remove barriers, leaving communities unprotected. ‘’No SANDF or SAPS to replace the CPFs– media please help,’’ was a cry heard on social media.

Police Minister Bheki Cele this week called on ordinary people to “work with the soldiers, you work with the police… your community in blue, those that work with the police station”.

“But the problem starts when they go for parallel structures; they go themselves and shoot the people and all that. Well, it is mob justice… vigilantism when people take law into their own hands.”

Cele has confirmed that 15 people have been killed in Phoenix, north Durban, this week following racial tension sparked by public violence and looting.

Questions over the legal implications of ’’community patrollers’’ is nothing new. During the first few months of the lockdown last year, South Africans called for community patrollers to be allowed to work in a bid to curb crime and the numerous burglaries at schools that had been taking place.

But Cele’s response at the time was: “When the soldiers and the police do things wrong, you know where to go. I don’t think you know where to go when the Neighbourhood Watch does things wrong (or what their accountability structure is). That is the problem.

“People like soldiers, police and the metro police have a history... they are vetted and known. Neighbourhood Watch, I don’t think they are vetted. I don’t think you have their history to tell who they are and where they come from and all that.

“The CPFs are doing a good job most of the times, but at times they come across as a problem when they come into politics instead of getting on issues on the ground.’’

Howard Dembovsky, national chairperson of the Justice Project SA, has stated that patrollers have no right to “stop and search” anybody.

“Community patrollers, organised or not, have no legal standing beyond the rights afforded to every citizen. They have no right to stop and search anyone. Police have only limited powers to do so in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. Patrollers may not demand any form of identification,” said Dembovsky.

“The community patrollers have a role to play as being the eyes and ears of the police. They are not police. If people have complaints about them, they should lodge them directly with the police station commander of the SA Police Service jurisdiction concerned.”

READ: The people, our heroes. When law and order fell, they stood up

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