Diepsloot residents say police and municipality have left them to the mercy of criminals

Just fixing the streetlights would help says community police forum

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Diepsloot Police Station is losing the fight against crime according to residents. Photos: Chris Gilili

  • Last year the police minster visited Diepsloot and an additional 120 officers and 16 extra police vehicles were deployed.
  • But residents say the policing blitz failed to secure any long term gains against crime and the situation is now as bad if not worse than ever.
  • Streetlights have not worked for years and Diepsloot remains dark and dangerous.
  • Out of desperation informal settlements have tried to create their own gated communities.

“Criminals do as they please. They break into houses and also kill people,” Diepsloot resident Tuwani Khakhu told GroundUp. “The police seldom come … We are scared at night in Diepsloot and stay locked indoors.”

Media attention on the mob killing of a Zimbabwean man, Elvis Nyathi, a year ago, saw police minister Bheki Cele visit Diepsloot, in the north of Johannesburg, and promise to deploy 120 officers, including members of the tactical response team (TRT) and the Public Order Police (POP), and an additional 16 vehicles.

But according to residents such as Khakhu, who has lived in the area since 2000, it “did not help” and crime is as bad if not worse than ever. A year later “nothing has changed”, he says.

In an attempt to safeguard themselves, residents in an informal section of Diepsloot erected enormous zinc sheet gates between the main road and their shacks in 2021. The gates are closed at 9pm and only reopened at 5am. No one may enter the settlement during these hours. But burglaries still happen.

“We have installed these gates because we feel like the police are failing us,” said Khakhu. “I think more patrols can help with eradicating crime. Especially during the night.”

Residents in Extension 1, an informal section of Diepsloot, erected these gates in 2021.

Oscar Mpephu, who owns an electronics and homestore shop, said, “The visibility of the TRT police team helped a bit last year, but there were too few of them. We need more.”

“We stay up until very late, especially on weekends, because criminals are always working. We are not safe at all … I have seen people getting mugged in front of my shop,” he said.

Back in 2016, after years of protests, the 140,000 residents of Diepsloot finally got their own police station. The construction work alone took nine years.

Residents had hoped this was the solution to endemic crime, but such hopes have since been dashed. Protests over a lack of policing continue.

“Maybe if they can fix the streetlights, crime will be minimised, especially in the informal areas, because it gets seriously dark in between these shacks,” says Eric Makhaya who has lived in Diepsloot since 2010.

GroundUp reported on the streetlight issue last year.

“Criminals do as they please here and police do nothing about it,” says Willie Hlungwane, a community policing forum member and ward 95 South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) chairperson.

Hlungwane did however praise the deployment of the TRT.

“As residents we have formed different community led organisations to fight crime: Diepsloot Residents Association (DRA), Diepsloot Community Forum (DCF), and a Neighbourhood Watch group,” he said.

He said the gates erected by the community get vandalised by criminals and can’t always close.

He identified drugs and illegal firearms as major problems.

“We need Apollo lights because all the streetlights you see here are not working. We have been pleading for years for the streetlights to be fixed, as that would make a difference,” Hlungwane said.

According to the recent crime statistics released by the South African Police Service, from January to March 2023 there were 20 murders, up from 19, 15, 17 and 11 in the past four years (2022 to 2019) for the same period. Diepsloot Police Station is seventh in the province and 28th in the country for the most rape cases reported.

Police Colonel Dimakatso Nevhuhulwi told GroundUp that policing Diepsloot is a logistical challenge because of expanding informal settlements.

“The station is doing the most with the resources they have to ensure maximum visibility,” she said.

The Diepsloot Police Station serves Diepsloot Extension 1 to 13, Riverside View, Northern Farms, Nietgedacht, Thabo Mbeki, Malatji, Drummond and Lanseria.

Recently, the Gauteng government met with Diepsloot residents at the Youth Centre to propose the installation of CCTV cameras to reduce crime and it received a positive response.

None of the streetlights in Diepsloot visible in this photograph have worked for years.

City Power responds

City Power blamed vandalism saying the lighting infrastructure is “vandalised and often stolen at a faster rate than we can replenish”.

“In some instances criminals vandalise the lights to enable themselves to conduct their criminality, rob residents, hijack cars and so forth”.

“Eskom also removed the transformer in extension 1 due to the mushrooming illegal connections from the nearby informal settlement. After that they vandalised the streetlights to connect themselves to the streetlights power source which is also connected to Eskom.”

“We are busy with the installation of solar High Mast lights (Apollo) in the area - a project which is being rolled out across the City in non-affluent areas, especially those supplied by Eskom.”

Update on 2023-06-14 10:56

The article was updated with a response from City Power

TOPICS:  Crime Policing

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