Police Minister Fikile Mbalula announces Bongani Mtakati as the new station commander for the Philippi East police station. Photo: ANA

Cape Town - The new station commander at Philippi East has promised big changes at the embattled precinct, whose residents have lost faith in the police’s ability to protect them from criminals.

A week after the gruesome murders of 11 people in one night rocked the community of Marikana in Philippi East, residents of the informal settlement say they still live in fear of brazen criminals.

On Friday night, eight suspects thought to have been involved in the killings were stopped on the N1, believed to have been fleeing the province at the time of their arrest.

Although police have yet to confirm the arrests, sources close to the investigation said the men were being questioned in connection with the murders.

Residents in the area said they would rest only once arrests were made.

The children living in the area experienced a bleak school holiday, as parents had kept them at home or sent them away to relatives to shield them from harm in the volatile community.

Mother of three Nomonde Nembe, 49, who lives near the shebeen where four men were gunned down, said sending her children away for the school holidays had brought her relief.

“I sent my children to the Eastern Cape the day the school closed and, as luck or God’s will may have it, that was the night when four men were killed at the shebeen and another four at a house that is near to mine.

“My eldest child, who is 22, also frequented that shebeen; if he had not been on his way to the Eastern Cape, he would have been there that night.

“With all the people who were getting killed in September, I decided it was better that they not be around for the holidays. My family is pressuring me to come back home, because it is no longer safe to live here. I can’t lose my job, but I also don’t want to die. A gun was pointed at me and I was robbed just yesterday, on my way to work.

“I am hoping the new station commander will improve things because this is my home, like it or not.”

Also read: 10 confirmed dead in night of terror in Cape township

Colonel Bongani Mtakati has pledged to work together with residents to rid the community of criminals.

Mtakati said the biggest challenge plaguing the community was the breakdown in the relationship between police and residents.

He said his priority was reviving the local community policing forum and establishing new sub-forums to work hand-in-hand with his office.

The training of 300 new neighbourhood watch members by the City of Cape Town and improvement of lighting in the area was also a step in the right direction for Mtakati.

“When it comes to Marikana, other areas are policeable and are being dealt with, but Marikana has the issue of lights. At night, it is a clustered and congested area and, when you walk in there, you need to follow each other and you could become a victim or get shot by those criminals in there,” he said.

“That is why I think the community must know who stays where and who does what. If we get that information, we will act on that.”

“We are already engaging with community leaders who are committed to working with us to root out and identifying the criminals inside the community. That will make sure we get rid of the criminals that are there.”

Community leaders in the area said they were prepared to work with police during a probationary period and, if matters didn’t improve, they would go back to their own style of policing.

About 28 people are said to have been killed in the area in vigilante attacks by angry residents who are frustrated by police inefficiency.

Read more: Philippi patrollers 'gang target after alleged vigilante slayings'

Mtakati said the trick to eradicating such practices was mending relationships with residents who would have enough faith in the police to trust them to rid the community of criminals.

“The community does not just take the law into their own hands; it is because of the broken relationship, so, once that is mended and something happens in there, they will be able to phone you to inform you what is happening,” he said.

Mtakati said the most worrying crime trends plaguing the community were fuelled by illegal shebeens, firearms and drug problems.

“You have your murders, but the robberies are worries to me. People are going to work and they are getting robbed; we need to address that and arrest people.

“The issue of drugs, which are fuelling the robberies, and the issue of illegal shebeens, both need to be addressed drastically.

“We need to take firearms from these people - there are a lot of firearms - and we need to collect them. Those are my priorities.”

Mtakati said he planned to take full advantage of the extra police units which have been deployed to the precinct for the next three months and ensure that, by the time they leave in December, the situation would have stabilised.

“I will also be getting 40 members coming from the college in December. I am looking forward to this. I am going to turn things around. We cannot continue like this.

“There were shortages of vehicles, but not so much. The biggest shortage was the personnel. When we look at that, it was not much of a shortage, but we must make sure that there are people to drive those vehicles.

“You will have two vehicles per shift, that was the challenge, and you have eight members for crime prevention per shift. That was a challenge.”

Weekend Argus