Opinion - On the morning of May 7, 2018, when Johnathan Shunmugam kissed his wife Dolly and wished her well, he did not realise what was in store for his family that day.

The Shunmugams live in the close knit community of Nirvana Hills, adjacent to Shallcross. 

Later that day, Johnathan got a frantic call from his son-in-law to come home immediately. 

What followed was his worst nightmare which tore his loving family apart.

As he entered his home, the gruesome sight of blood led him to the love of his life, his dear wife Dolly, who lay sprawled on the floor, bludgeoned to death. 

The husband, father and grandfather were devastated and shocked. As news of the murder spread throughout the community, fear gripped families.

They had no neighbourhood watch, no WhatsApp group connecting the neighbours or street meetings discussing crime in the area. 

In fact Johnathan was last seen by an immediate neighbour a few weeks earlier.

This murder was reported in the media and investigations are continuing.

On the morning of May 28, 2018, 9-year-old Sadia Sukhraj was shot dead in Shallcross, in a hijacking. 

Another life lost in this ongoing spate of killings which leaves families broken and communities terrorised. 

Each time a life is lost to crime, our people feel vulnerable and start focusing on the custodians of our safety, the police.

While at the home sympathising with the Sukhraj family I met another distraught woman from Moorton who told me that her son was killed the previous week outside their home in another hijacking attempt. 

These are incidents we know of personally and not taken from statistics released by the police or media.

A few years ago, the community of Chatsworth was under siege when criminals attacked and killed many innocent people. 

My brother was shot in our family home and I still remember that fateful morning like it was yesterday. 

When I arrived at the scene, he took his last breath and lay in a pool of blood after being shot by six gunmen. 

My parents had never gotten over his death or the helplessness they felt as they watched my brother die. A young, committed policeman lost to crime.

At the time there was massive media coverage because this murder took place on the eve of a general election. 

The Premier, MEC for Safety and Security and other big wigs all descended on Chatsworth assuring the people that they will do everything in their power to restore safety and security in the area.

I was determined to find solutions. We launched an organisation called Chatsworth and District Against Crime (Cadac) and began calling up community meetings in all areas of Chatsworth. 

First in our campaign was to focus on the community, to ensure that they were vigilant. 

After all, the first people nearest a crime scene are community members, not the police. 

We started to send out a message that crime can affect anyone. 

Yesterday, it was the child of someone else and today it could be yours. 

The reason for this was that our community was apathetic and as long as crime affected someone else they were not interested.

Community Policing Forum meetings were poorly-attended and neighbourhood crime fighting initiatives began with much enthusiasm but died down after a while.

Morale among policemen, at that time, was at its lowest and absenteeism was at its highest. 

Too few policemen, with limited resources, to fight a growing number of criminals, was a genuine recipe for disaster.

We met the then MEC for Community, Safety and Liason in KZN, Bheki Cele, and highlighted our plight. 

The ones with access to government resources are the only ones who can bring change.

We realised that dealing with those who are nowhere near these resources will only use us to bolster their anti government campaigns, and we had no time for that. 

Also, we saw an opportunity, as an election was looming and the political heads were keen on scoring points with communities for votes. We capitalised on this and the government announced a special anti crime task team to be deployed to Chatsworth together with a multimillion-rand upgrade to the police station.

Over 120 police personnel from specialised units descended on Chatsworth with additional resources and satellite stations were set up in areas identified as hot spots. 

People and vehicles were stopped and searched and effective policing was well under way. 

We ensured that community members were actively working with the police in fighting crime. 

All these efforts brought crime in Chatsworth right down to zero. After a few months the task team moved out of Chatsworth.

We must also be aware that criminals do not wear a badge that says, “I am a criminal”. 

They are among us disguised as civilians and even lurk among the police. 

These are the individuals who create diversions whenever we come up with solutions and strive to keep us divided. 

The easiest way is to start racial tensions so we start to fight among ourselves. Criminals exist in all race groups. 

When you meet communities across the racial divide, you find that they are all fed-up with crime.

Our biggest advantage is that peace loving, law abiding people are still in the majority and together we can be a force to be reckoned with.

As a community we are the watchdogs of the police. We elect a Community Policing Forum and we must hold them accountable. 

The police alone will not prevent us from losing a loved one. Criminals do not just appear at a home, they come from somewhere. 

When the killers attacked my brother, or when they entered the home of the slain grandmother from Northdene, or when they stole the car with Sadia inside, they entered the neighbourhood as unfamiliar individuals. 

We all have cellphones and many of us do not even have our neighbours’ contact numbers. In times of crisis, the first person to respond is our neighbour.

We have to start WhatsApp groups with all our neighbours and put out an alert whenever we see unfamiliar people in our neighbourhood. In this way we are not sitting targets.

As a way forward we, as a community, cannot allow the many who lost their lives senselessly to crime, to have died in vain. If we don’t make it a point of working with our neighbours and the police, we run the risk of losing a loved one.