The po­lice are the enemy in this pocket of poverty

Kreef­gat, near Bishop Lavis, is a ‘failed state’ all on its own

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - KOWTHAR SOLOMONS

A LARGE scorch mark in the mid­dle of Oude Hout Street is all that re­mains, but as a sign of bad blood, it is a sear­ing tes­ta­ment. This is Kreef­gat near Bishop Lavis, where the po­lice are not wel­come and where res­i­dents last week stoned and shot at po­lice and set fire to a pa­trol ve­hi­cle in a ex­plo­sion of fury and re­sent­ment.

Kreef­gat makes head­lines oc­ca­sion­ally, but only to re­mind the out­side world that it ex­ists. A small pocket of poverty, grime, crime and re­lated so­cial ills sur­rounded by key ar­te­rial roads heav­ing with traf­fic, it is a failed state all on its own.

Kreef­gat ba­si­cally con­sists of five streets: Oude Hout, Oliehout, On­der­bos, Ole­an­der – which forms a loop at the heart of the com­mu­nity – and Ne­treg Road, which is the pri­mary and only road into and out of the area. The N2 high­way buzzes by right along­side.

Bishop Lavis po­lice sta­tion and the pro­vin­cial po­lice train­ing col­lege are sit­u­ated a stone’s throw away on the other side of Val­halla Drive. But for res­i­dents here it may as well not ex­ist. They have de­clared their area a no-go zone for the po­lice.

The po­lice main­tain their of­fi­cers came un­der fire from lo­cal gang mem­bers and that they have a healthy re­la­tion­ship with the Kreef­gat com­mu­nity. But res­i­dents in­sist it was they who were re­spon­si­ble for last week’s at­tack on the po­lice and jus­tify it with sto­ries of beat­ings, false ar­rests and aban­don­ment by the po­lice.

Be­fore the Weekend Ar­gus team vis­ited the area, the Bishop Lavis po­lice warned of pre­vi­ous at­tacks on po­lice and an at­tack on an am­bu­lance which took place af­ter emer­gency ser­vices were lured out with false emer­gency calls.

Kreef­gat was quiet but the air was thick with mis­trust. Res­i­dents would speak but only if their names were with­held. The fear of po­lice re­tal­i­a­tion, real or imag­ined, clung heav­ily.

Jes­sica Khan (not her real name) claimed po­lice had as­saulted res­i­dents for years and were the real gang­sters. The ones to be feared. Avoided.

“They at­tack and beat us when­ever they feel like it. I know we have gang mem­bers in the area but they tar­get any youth they see in the streets. Some­times they will just grab some­one, beat and ar­rest them, only to let them go the next day with­out any charges. When we see the po­lice pa­trolling, we grab our chil­dren and run in­side our homes,” she said. “We fear and hate the po­lice.”

Khan added that when they needed the po­lice they were never around.

“We are the for­got­ten peo­ple. No­body comes here. If we want help with so­cial ser­vices we have to travel to Elsies River. We don’t even have money for taxi fare. When my son was burnt dur­ing an ac­ci­dent in the kitchen we had to get a lift to the hos­pi­tal be­cause no am­bu­lance is will­ing to come in here with­out the po­lice and the po­lice don’t care about us so they won’t bother com­ing in.

“They have no prob­lem push­ing us around and beat­ing us but when we need them they don’t show. Last year a group of 50 guys attacked three houses and they were there for two hours. The po­lice never showed up un­til they were gone. We’re bet­ter off pro­tect­ing our­selves. They are not wel­come here.”

For once it seems the po­lice are the ones caught in the mid­dle. Last Sun­day morn­ing, three po­lice ve­hi­cles ar­rived in Oude Hout Street in search of a stolen car. They re­port­edly asked for a com­mu­nity mem­ber to ac­com­pany them in the search for the ve­hi­cle.

Ach­mat Jor­daan ( not his real name), a self-con­fessed 28s gang mem­ber, said ev­ery­one re­fused, wary of pre­vi­ous po­lice beat­ings.

“We’ve all seen it be­fore. They lure you in, beat and ar­rest you for no rea­son and just re­lease you the next day with­out a charge. When no one wanted to get into the car, they drew their weapons on us. That’s when some­one in the street started fir­ing shots at po­lice and ev­ery­thing went out of con­trol.”

This orgy of vi­o­lence has played out in Kreef­gat many times be­fore. On De­cem­ber 9 last year, Jerome Brown was shot and killed just me­tres away from Sun­day’s vi­o­lent epi­cen­tre when po­lice re­sponded to a shoot­ing. Resi- dents claim Brown was sim­ply a by­s­tander. It fur­ther eroded Kreef­gat’s dwin­dling faith in the po­lice.

“They had that same men­tal­ity, that same ar­ro­gance that they could do any­thing they wanted and get away with it and that’s when peo­ple re­ally lost it,” said Jor­daan of last Sun­day’s chaos.

“I didn’t see ex­actly what hap­pened but ev­ery­one was throw­ing stones at the po­lice cars. And they started fir­ing wildly into the street where chil­dren were play­ing… they didn’t think twice that in­no­cent peo­ple could be hit. Some peo­ple tried to help the po­lice with buck­ets of wa­ter to put out the fire, but if they got too close they were shot at too.”

Po­lice spokesman Colonel Them­binkosi Ki­nana said the events were still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and that com­plaints and al­le­ga­tions against po­lice were noted.

He added that the re­la­tion­ship with the po­lice and the com­mu­nity “has al­ways been healthy”, de­spite ev­i­dence and claims to the con­trary.

Al­bert Fritz, So­cial De­vel­op­ment MEC, ad­mit­ted that Kreef­gat lacked any real form of in­fra­struc­ture to help ad­dress is­sues like crime or poverty.

“We have a pro­gramme run­ning at a lo­cal pri­mary school, but more def­i­nitely needs to be done. We ask that the peo­ple not sim­ply wait on gov­ern­ment to pro­vide aid, but sub­mit sug­ges­tions and plans to turn the area around be­cause no one knows the chal­lenges they face bet­ter than they them­selves.”

Fritz added that he would visit the area soon to as­sess the sit­u­a­tion and look at ways to de­velop it.

In the mean­time, life in Kreef­gat goes on. And all around Kreef­gat, a city goes about its daily busi­ness.

PIC­TURE: THOMAS HOLDER

CRIME SCENE: The only ev­i­dence of the vi­o­lent clash be­tween po­lice and res­i­dents of Oude Hout Street in Kreef­gat is the scorched stretch of road left be­hind by a torched po­lice ve­hi­cle.

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