by Chris Louw, journalist, De Wildt area, greater Pretoria
2009-09-25 - When the SA Police and the State’s sympathies increasingly are on the side of the criminals there’s a screw lose, writes freelance journalist Chris Louw.
In his De Wildt area near Brits, the breakins at smallholdings are an epidemic yet aren’t even treated as crimes by police. And when farmers lodge formal charges after they are attacked, the crime-victims are arrested instead and thrown in jail, with trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi* holding a speech outside the courtroom claiming that ‘it’s a daily occurrance that white farmers shoot at and assault black residents…’
Picture: Police vehicle parked at township pub…
Journalist Chris Louw writes: “The epidemic nightly breakins at De Wildt smallholdings aren’t viewed as ‘crimes’ by police – and not one of the nine farm attacks last month have been solved…
Louw writes: “Here in De Wildt, between Pretoria-North and Hartbeespoort, the breakins at smallholdings have become so endemic that they often aren’t even reported to police any longer. What does it help if you know nothing further will be done about them?
“The Americans’ broken-window policy’ is well-known: if windows are broken in a building and nobody fixes them, vandals will break even more windows and eventually break into the building. Punish that crime as it starts and the right message is sent. This policy has obtained remarkable success in combating crime in the New York area.
“However the opposite is happening here in De Wildt. Initially there were one or two breakins a week. Then it became a nightly event and now it’s an epidemic, with men who openly run around each night with stolen TV-sets, radios and laptop computers, using escape routes right across the smallholdings.
- And the local police, Acacia but especially the Mmakau police station – no longer handle housebreakings as a crime at all: Not one case of housebreaking has been solved in the region of Silkaatsnek and De Wildt by the policemen at Mmakau. These police apparently view their jobs as ‘done’ as soon as a statement has been taken and all the elementary paperwork has been conducted. Actual detective work does not exist – except for one exception:
“Shopowner George Santos borrowed police’s bullet-proof vest and caught the burglars himself”
On 1 June 2009, Mr George Santos’ shop was broken into north of De Wildt. A strange event then followed, and it was actually recorded on Santos’ own security cameras.
On this video, it can be clearly seen how nine burly police officers of Mmakau simply refused to enter the building. It’s also seen on this video that Santos then borrows one of the police officers’ bullet-proof vests and walks into his shop to confront the burglars himself.
- Nine police officers – too cowardly to do their jobs. These suspects were arrested only due to Santos’ own initiative but have since then already been released on bail.
Farmer Davel’s stolen electric pumps were found in Ga-Rankuwa by the farmer himself…
And Mmakau’s police officers cannot even deliver results when the smallholding residents point them straight to the guilty parties themselves…
- For example: In August 2007, two electric pumps belonging to irrigation-crop farmer Gertjie Davel were stolen. He actually followed the pushbarrow’s trail straight to the township of Ga-Rankuwa, where the vehicle was found abandoned underneath some rubbish and the electric engines themselves were located inside a shack. “I phoned the police,’ said Davel, “They confiscated that shack resident’s identity document and a photograph of him which was inside the shack. Thus far, they have made no further progress and all my enquiries fall on deaf ears.’
- Apparently, Mmakau’s detectives find this cause a haunting puzzle…
Seven farm attacks in De Wildt last month: none solved…
If Davel’s incident can be held up as an example of the ‘broken-window’ syndrome, the seven armed farm attacks which occured this past month in De Wildt alone, can also be seen as the inevitable escalation of this problem (which got worse because) it did not get immediate attention.
- In each of these seven farm attacks, women and domestic workers were attacked in broad daylight and robbed at gunpoint. Not one of these robbers have thus far been caught.
‘De Wildt Helpmekaar Company’ captures criminals with the goods – but Mmakau police just releases them
The result now is that the smallholding-residents have now taken matters into their own hands, split up the area into regions of responsibility, and elected their own leaders who were placed in charge of security in their region. And more and more people are now joining the radio-network which interlinks these crime-fighters under the De Wildt Helpmekaar Company.
In emergency cases, residents now call for help via the radio-network – and within minutes, four to ten bakkies with volunteers will start their search for the criminals – and with considerable success:
- at least nine men, aged from 18 to 30 years, most of them Zimbabweans, have already been captured over the past three weeks.
But – there’s a problem: Not one of these arrested men have thus far even been charged, nor appeared in any court of law, despite the fact that the stolen goods were found in their possession when they were handed over to the police.
- The Mmakau police force simply releases these arrested men without punishing them.
Police station in township manned only by black officers has to also ‘patrol white farm area’
“Mmakau is an anomaly – a police station which is manned ONLY by black police officers and which is located inside a black township. However from this limited enclave, the police are supposed to look after the safety of all the white farmers in the area too.
One is constantly being admonished over the radio ‘not to take the law into your own hands’. However, when the land-owners do not get access to the judicial system, conflict about this matter seems to be unavoidable.
Mr Gerhard Short, who farms in Schietfontein for instance, ihas been terrorised by criminals for a long time now.
- Yet thus far, nothing has resulted from the eight cases of housebreaking, theft and illegal occupation which Short has reported at the Mmakau police station.
Early one morning, Short got into a scuffle with a group of Zimbabweans who were on the servitude of his farm without his permission. Three of these Zimbabweans were bitten by Short’s dog – and he himself was also bitten by the dog during the scuffle.
- Short then lodged a complaint of intimidation and illegal entry at the Mmakau police station.
So late that afternoon, a group of about 20 black police officers charged onto his farm and arrested the injured farmer. And that night, the cops took the Zimbabweans he’d lodged a complaint about, to the hospital for ‘treatment of their bite wounds.’ Meanwhile Short, injured himself, remained uncared for in the police cells, despite a promise from police inspector Tsotseti that the white farmer would also be taken for treatment – a promise made amongst others to Mr Hannes Venter, head of the community-policing forum in the area, and the Transvaal Agricultural Union’s Wannie Scribante.
That following morning, it was the injured farmer, Shot, who appeared in the Brits magistrate’s court on charges of ‘attempted murder, pointing a firearm and assault with the intent to incur grievous damge.’ The investigating officer, one constable Motaung testified that he had no objection to granting the white farmer bail: Short, he testified, ‘had given his full cooperation, had handed in his firearms voluntarily, and is wellknown and a leading citizen in the area’.
If constable Motaung’s testimony can be accepted by the court, asks Short’s lawyer Marius Hamann, ‘why was his client locked up in the first place in the police cells?” What was the purpose of this arrest?
Zwelinzima Vavi of Cosatu trade union’s public statements about white farmers ‘daily attacking black people’:
Apparently what was also taken into account against Short’s bail application was that another farmer in Brits, Dr Dawie Swart, would also appear the next day on a charge of attempted murder when he was accused of firing a shot at three black males – and that the Cosatu trade union had apparently arranged a protest meeting for which they had drummed up 300 people at the court house. At later appearances, these numbers dwindled to just a handful.
- However Mr Zwelinzima Vavi was now able to say in public that ‘it is a daily occurrance for farmers to assault and shoot at black people’.
And it was this particular protest action about another farmer, which then gave public prosecutor Kekana a ‘reason’ why Short’s bail had to be set at R1,500 ..
- “The community,’ said Kekana, ‘was sick and tired of assaults being carried out by white farmers against black people…’ Magistrate Rosenberg then set his bail at R3,000 and ordered Short to appear on 27 October .
‘Suspected farm attacker’ released on R300 bail by same magistrate:
Yet only twenty minutes earlier – that very same magistrate Rosenberg also heard a case in which 24-year-old Prim Misoma of Attenridgeville was in court for owning an illegal firearm in the very same region where seven armed farm attacks had been carried out against white owned-farms.
- Misoma had been arrested in Harbeespoort, about 5km from Silkaatsnek – and in the very same region where a large group of young black men had carried out seven armed farm attacks against white-owned farms.
- Yet this Prim Misoma was released on a mere R300 bail…
Crime victims get penalised:
The question one must ask is the following: how can a society function effectively when productive people are penalised whenever they turn to the police to try and get crimes solved, while suspects are handled with kid-gloves?
If the police and the state’s sympathies lie with the criminals – as it increasingly appears to be – there’s certainly a screw lose. Because what is happening in De Wildt, is not unique, according to the many news reports.
Can South Africa really afford to lose the trust placed in our judicial system by economically-productive citizens?
July 08 2009 By Poloko Tau - “The Brits community came out in force to protest against the courts’ handling of “racist farmers’ cases” as Dawie Swart appeared on four counts of attempted murder. The angry community were calling for the Brits Magistrate’s Court to revoke Swart’s R7 000 bail. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi embraced Thabo Thabane, who was allegedly shot by Swart in an eye, as they both stood on a makeshift podium on the back of a bakkie.
- “We were only walking home after a game of soccer. I don’t know why he shot at us,” murmured the 15-year-old. Next to the bakkie stood his equally shaken brother Tebogo, 13, and their neighbours Leonard Nkadimeng, 19, and Nchocho Ntoagae, who were also shot at by the farmer two days before Youth Day at his Klipkop farm. The other three were shot in their arms and treated and discharged from hospital, while Thabo has to go back to hospital on July 19 for another attempt to remove the bullet from his eye socket. The four on Tuesday pointed to a spot inside Swart’s yard where orange trees are fenced in.They admitted that they werecrossing through when the white farmer allegedly opened fire on them with what police described as “live rounds”.
- “For over a year we have walked this footpath going through an opening in the fence, and there has never been a problem. People crossed here and we also did on our way to Swart’s shop or to the football grounds close to his shop,” Thabo said. “I don’t know what got into him on the day when he suddenly emerged from the woods and shot at us. We ran for our lives as he shouted ‘Wat soek julle hier?’ (What are you looking for here?) but I had already been hit in the eye.”The case was postponed to August 7 for further investigation.
Addressing about 300 residents outside court yesterday, Vavi called for the speedy transformation of the judiciary, citing a string of unsolved cases involving murders and abuse of workers by farmers who escaped with a slap on the wrist or were never prosecuted.
- “Swart claims these boys were stealing oranges from his farm, and in his book, people stealing his oranges must be shot and killed. To him the life of a black person is as cheap as an orange,” Vavi said to loud cheers from the crowd. He also said that if farmers continued to assault, harass and exploit workers, their products would be boycotted.
“Those who get arrested get bail, after which their cases will be postponed endlessly. At the end they’re either not found guilty or have the charges changed to culpable homicide, having said they were not intending to kill or had mistaken the victim for a dog or a baboon,” he said “We urge President Zuma and the minister of justice to ensure that transformation in the judiciary happens without any further delay so that all the victims can see justice.’ Vavi warned that a “bomb was ticking” and there was a need to address the issue urgently before communities took the law into their own hands. Swart’s bail was extended until his next appearance in August.http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=15&art_id=vn20090708041857449C633012