The police are the enemy in this pocket of poverty
Kreefgat, near Bishop Lavis, is a ‘failed state’ all on its own
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.
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.