Elinor Bodinger of the Bordeaux South Residents Association. Picture:Refilwe Modise

Sheree Bega

Before Bordeaux South slammed shut to criminals, it was the Wild West. That’s how Elinor Bodinger remembers the violent house robberies, hijackings and rapes that plagued the upmarket suburb.

But that picture changed two years ago when residents banded together to end the reign of terror. They boomed-off and fenced their neighbourhood, which intersects Sandton and Randburg, reducing its entrances from six to two and hired a “deadly” security company.

“In the past two years, we’ve had zero violent crime here,” reveals Bodinger, the chairwoman of the Bordeaux South Residents Association, proudly. “When we first started, we put up poles ourselves to close our roads, we were so sick of crime. We made a lot of noise and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

But it has been a frustrating and costly battle – fought largely against the City of Joburg. “When we filed our application in 2009, the city just put it on a pile with all the others and ignored us.”

The association took the council to court three times – and won each of their cases. In the latest, last year, the Johannesburg High Court ruled Bordeaux South had permission to erect access restriction structures temporarily. They now have permission from the Johannesburg Roads Agency to install permanent structures.

Bodinger believes their case has put pressure on the City of Joburg who this week revealed it had approved a draft review of its Security Access Restriction Policy.

The draft review stipulates just two-thirds of property owners, not 80 percent, now need to consent to closures, and sets time frames for every step of the application procedure.

For Bodinger, and Bordeaux South’s 450-strong households who have spent more than R500 000 on the closure process, it’s long overdue. “I think it’s about time the city does something,” she says. “We as residents have paid for the gates, our applications, the adverts, the court case.”

There are around 400 closures awaiting council approval, some dating as far back as 2003. Back then, the City of Joburg drew outrage when it ruled road closures were illegal and started to dismantle booms. The JRA agreed to allow those already boomed off to remain closed, but the applications were not formally approved and many since denied.

This prompted the Combined Chairpersons Committee, which represents 85 road closures in Gauteng, to take the matter to the public prosecutor, describing the attitude of the City of Joburg as “defying logic”.

Bodinger reveals how the city claimed Bordeaux South’s case for closure was “indicative of anti-black sentiment” and that their concerns were exaggerated. Crime was a worldwide phenomenon that formed part of human experience from Biblical times, it argued in court papers.

“We’re doing this purely for security reasons – it has nothing to do with race. The real question to ask is why is the city not following policy?”

Bodinger gestures to the letters of support from City Power, noting how Bordeaux South – once a hotbed of cable theft – no longer experienced any. Other letters from the Randburg Community Policing Forum and SAPS congratulate residents on their efforts to reduce crime. “We have paid to protect the assets of the city, but the council has done nothing to protect its own assets – or us.”

Bodinger moved with her family to SA from Israel four years ago, bought a house in the suburb and renovated it. Within months of moving in, her house was ransacked, and she walked in on robbers emptying out her home. “Many residents experienced worse crime and fear. If the police and the city are not doing anything to protect us, then we have to do what we can to protect ourselves,” she says.

Bodinger and her team are now working on the completion of the closures and are raising funds from residents to erect a 2m-high palisade fence, with several pedestrian gates, along a portion of Jan Smuts Avenue – seeking R2 000 from residents. The introduction of hi-tech number plate recognition cameras by year-end will cost a once-off fee of R550 to erect and monitoring will be funded by the R150 levy paid to the residents association.

There are “freeloaders” in the community who don’t contribute financially – and not all residents favour their community being closed off. “There are four objectors,” says Bodinger. “They call our area a prison. I also believe in freedom of movement, but not when I’m being hijacked.”

Rodney Peter, a former Umkhonto we Sizwe member, who runs his hair salon from his home, agrees. “The closures are a cry for help. Why should we as hardworking people have to sacrifice our sense of peace for criminals who have no scruples? We’re a community taking charge, instead of complaining about crime.”

Fighting crime has brought the community together, adds Bodinger. “I get satisfaction from the fact crime has gone down, the suburb looks better, people are happy and families are safe. Residents aren’t scared and terrified to come home to be hijacked or for their kids to be tied up. People can walk around safely now.”