Three members of the Imizamo Yethu Neighbourhood Watch were targeted in what appears to have been a series of orchestrated petrol-bomb attacks last weekend.
The victims believe the attacks are retribution for the watch’s nightly patrols, which have clamped down on crime in the area.
Petrol bombs were simultaneously thrown at the homes of watch leader Norman Mzantsi and fellow patroller Ncedisile Kiva at 5.20am on Saturday January 21, while just after midnight on Friday a container belonging to another watch member, John Katemba, went up in flames.
Mr Katemba, has been trying to rebuild his life after he was badly injured while coming to aid of a fire victim in 2015 (“IY resident struggles with life after fire,” Sentinel, August 5 2016). He housed his electronics repair business in the container.
Hout Bay police are investigating all three incidents. Detective have collected broken bottles from the two houses that were targeted and they’re trying to establish what caused the container fire.
However, the attacks have put pressure on Hout Bay SAPS station commander Colonel Khuthala Nebhisi, who the community feel is not doing enough to support the watch.
Only hours after Mr Mzantsi’s and Mr Kiva’s homes were targeted, a group of more than 100 Imizamo residents handed over a petition to the colonel calling for her removal from the station.
Mr Mzantsi had been asleep with his wife and two children when he woke to shouting in the street on Saturday morning.
“When I opened my front door, the area in front of my house was burning, and there was a strong smell of petrol,” he said.
“Someone had tried to throw a petrol bomb through my front window, but luckily it didn’t go through the window and hit the wall next to the door. The community used buckets of water to put out the flames. We were so lucky because if that fire had got in the house, we might be dead.”
Mr Mzantsi immediately called Mr Kiva to tell him what had happened, but, to his horror, he learnt that his colleague had been targeted at exactly the same time.
“This is very bad,” said Mr Kiva, whose shack is in another part of Imizamo Yethu. “I work with youngsters teaching them to fight against crime, but now you see what these skollies are doing. We are targets for them.”
Two petrol bombs were thrown at his home, one of which left a black stain on the wall of his neighbour’s house. The other fell in a small section at the side of his shack.
Mr Katemba was understandably devastated by the attack.”I have now really lost everything. I didn’t even know the container had been burnt. I went to work as normal at 7.30am on Friday and saw there was nothing left,” he said.
Since the attacks, none of the men have been able to sleep, fearing the perpetrators might carry out more bombings.
“We are 50 patrollers in our neighbourhood watch, and we don’t know who is next,” Mr Mzantsi said.
“Most of the community want us to carry on what we are doing because we protect them, but there are some people who don’t want us. At this stage, we don’t know for sure who threw these bombs, but we suspect it’s skollies who are not happy that we are interfering with their operations. These are house-breakers who sell what they have stolen to the community.
“We know they don’t like us, but they’ve never done something like this before. We feel we are being sent a message to stop interfering.”
In October last year, reports emerged that some patrollers were taking the law into their own hands and carrying out vigilante attacks on innocent members of the community.
It was claimed that they no longer wanted police to escort them on patrols.
Mr Mzantsi said he was unaware of those reports.
Instead, he said, the watch was not getting enough support from Hout Bay police.
“When my house was bombed, I called three times for the police to come. My neighbour also called three times. They only came four hours later, at 9.30am. It seems like no one is going to protect us, not even the police.
“The police say they only had one vehicle, but if you go to the police station you see more than one vehicle there. We are not safe anymore.” However, some community leaders are not convinced the neighbourhood watch is telling the whole story.
“When the patrols started, I joined myself, but after a while I did not like what I saw,” said community leader Kenny Tokwe.
“The patrollers say they are only going after skollies, but I have seen innocent people being beaten in their own homes or on the street. No one has the right to do that. In all that time, I never saw a skollie being beaten, only innocent people.
“If you had uniformed policemen doing that they would be arrested. I am all for patrols, but you cannot have vigilantism.”
Mr Tokwe did not wish to speculate about who was responsible for the petrol bombs.
The petition calling for the removal of Colonel Nebhisi, signed by more than 400 residents, charges that the station commander has a “lack of desire” to work with the community turns “a deaf ear” to their concerns.
Colonel Nebhisi said she had received the petition from the community. “I will be handing this over to the cluster manager. It is not for me to answer on the decision for me to stay or go,” she said.
She was adamant that only one police vehicle had been available on Saturday morning.
“At the same time Mr Mzantsi called us, officers had been called out to a house robbery.”
In a joint statement on Tuesday January 24, the SAPS and the Hout Bay Community Police Forum said they acknowledged the “good work” done by the neighbourhood watch patrollers in the fight against crime, but “require them to operate within the law at all times”.
“The partnership between SAPS, CPF and patrollers will continue and the SAPS has not instructed the IY patrollers to stop patrolling. Measures have been put in place for SAPS to assist with foot patrols over weekends.”