Broken streetlights have led to a spike in crime in this Cape Town suburb

But the City says repairs are difficult because of safety risks in Tafelsig

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Connie Adams (left) and Christine Claassen stand in front of a vandalised streetlight in Stella Way, Tafelsig. The cables were stolen. Photo: Marecia Damons

  • Streetlights in Tafelsig, Cape Town, are out of order due to damage or stolen cables, leading to darkness at night and early morning.
  • Members of the Tafelsig Neighbourhood Watch and Mitchells Plain United Residents Association say this has led to a spike in crime.
  • Residents say it takes months for their complaints to be addressed.
  • But the City of Cape Town says the lights are repeatedly vandalised and repairs are difficult because of safety risks to repair teams.

Bus stops in Tafelsig in Cape Town have become a crime hotspot in the morning and evening because streetlights are not working, says Tafelsig Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) executive council member, Christine Claassen.

She said people going to and from work are targets of robberies and stabbings. Because of this, members of the NHW walk residents to the bus stop from 4am and wait until everyone is safely on the bus. They wait again from around 5pm to 8pm when the last drop-offs are made.

“This place is completely dark at night and crime is escalating because the lights have not been working for more than a year,” she said. “We have big torches and walk around at night. But as the neighbourhood watch, we cannot be all over.

“There was a break-in at a shop where I stay on Tuesday night, and they stole a few things,” said Claassen. “The area was completely dark because the streetlights weren’t working. Before midnight, people were shooting in that street.”

She said in the last year there had been a spike in the number of reported stabbings, robberies and damage to property in the area.

The City of Cape Town in its Design and Management Guidelines for a Safer City acknowledges that “Good lighting is one of the most effective means of increasing levels of safety and deterring crime, because it increases levels of visibility when it is dark. Good lighting levels also increase perceptions of safety and reduce levels of fear”.

But the constant vandalism of the Tafelsig streetlights has strained City resources, says Mayoral Committee Member for Energy, Councillor Beverley van Reenen.

The lights are supposed to remain on all day. But when GroundUp visited the area on Wednesday, most of the streetlights in Tafelsig were off. Some of the lightbulbs were broken, the cables were gone, and some had been completely vandalised.

None of the streetlights in Stella Way were working when GroundUp visited the area. Photo: Marecia Damons

Lucinda Jordan, whose family lives in Stella Way, said she had been “given the runaround for more than a year” after reporting that the streetlights were not working.

She said she first logged a service request in February 2023 about one streetlight in Stella Way that was not working. She followed up a week later and again several weeks after that. When she followed up again in August and September, ward councillor Norman Robert Adonis said service requests to streetlights had been suspended due to the taxi strike.

“This year will be the second winter of darkness. I don’t know where to go. No one is sorting it out,” said Jordan.

Connie Adams of the Mitchells Plain United Residents Association (MURA) said during loadshedding criminals stripped cables from streetlights.

Adams said MURA received 109 complaints about vandalised streetlights on the west side of Tafelsig. She said when they lodge complaints about the non-working streetlights, the City took “months” to come fix it. The lights in her street in Tafelsig have been off since last year, she said.

Adams acknowledged that the lack of working streetlights is not solely the fault of the City because no sooner were lights fixed in one street that criminals returned to steal the cables. “We need to find a solution,” she said.

“The lights get fixed and vandalised shortly thereafter,” said Van Reenen. “Vandalism and illegal connections are at crisis levels and City teams are working under severe pressure,” she said.

“This pocket within Tafelsig is extremely volatile and our service teams had to withdraw from the area on a number of occasions when attending to electricity infrastructure repairs due to safety risks,” said van Reenen. She did not respond to GroundUp’s questions about the service requests Jordan lodged about the streetlights in Stella Way that have not been working for more than a year.

But she said from January 2023 to February 2024, the City had received 10,291 fault requests in Mitchells Plain, the “metro vandalism hotspot”. “31% of these pertain to repeated vandalised infrastructure like poles and theft,” said van Reenen.

Van Reenen said the City is introducing private security patrols and alternative lighting solutions and appointing new public lighting contractors. “We are doing all we can to attend to the required repairs, however, the rate at which theft and vandalism are happening in this area is putting strain on the City’s resources. This is simply unsustainable. We call on the community to continue their support as we try to protect our infrastructure,” van Reenen said.

TOPICS:  Crime Electricity

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