Mother City's no-go zones<br>

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Mother City's no-go zones

Postby GOSA » Fri, 2006-06-30 09:04

Mother City's no-go zones

Pearlie Joubert and Marianne Thamm

28 June 2006 12:06

Western Cape police officials have admitted they are losing the battle to maintain law and order on Cape Town's increasingly anarchic highways because the city is so underpoliced.

The city has significantly fewer police personnel than Johannesburg: There is one policeman for every 2 300 Capetonians compared with Johannesburg's one to 1 700. Criminologists say the ideal in South Africa is one to 1 000. At night, only 12 traffic officers are on duty in Cape Town.

Apart from the official reported figure of close to 8 000 motor accidents a month in Cape Town -- 300 a day in the city itself -- violent crime has escalated along certain routes. These include robberies, the ambushing of cars at "roadblocks", stonings and smash-and-grab thefts.

The city's current five "no-go zones", according to Metro Police chief Bongani Jonas, are the N2 between Langa and the R300; the R300 itself; Borcherd's Quarry Road near Cape Town International airport; Vanguard Drive and Baden Powell Road.

Even tow-truck drivers are too afraid to park along these routes. "It's the Wild West; even the police are scared of the bandits," said one operator who asked not be named.

This week Ruwayda Kolia-Sonday and her three children, Saarah (8) Alee (4) and Eemaam (2) narrowly escaped serious injury when a concrete block was dropped on their car from a bridge near Nyanga on the N2.

Kolia-Sonday said when she called the 10111 emergency number to report the incident, the operator told her to "calm down; it happens all the time".

An officer who works at the flying squad call centre said callers who phoned in about incidents on the most dangerous highways were often hysterical. "It's hectic out there at night."

The flying squad deploys up to four vehicles on the N2 24 hours a day. They are also permanently stationed along Vanguard Drive because of the many smash-and-grab incidents on that road.

"We receive about 2 000 calls a day and a substantial number relate to problems along the N2, the R300 and Vanguard Drive," a police spokesperson said.

The flying squad can only patrol the N2 itself -- bridges and roads across the highway have to be patrolled by local police personnel. "People hide on the bridges and wait until we drive off. By the time we've turned around, people have been hurt," said a flying squad officer who asked to remain anonymous.

Tow-truck operators called to accidents and breakdowns along the "no-go routes" tell frightening tales of bandits who hide on the roadside and set up roadblocks to cause accidents.

"I got a call out to the R300 recently and found a man had driven into a barrier of rocks. He was lying on the other side of the road, unable to move and told me he'd been robbed of his phone, wallet and prosthetic leg," said a tow-truck operator.

Violence along the N2 and R300 have been an issue for at least 20 years and the Metro Police set up a mobile unit in a container on the N2 opposite Khayelitsha two years ago to counter the problem. But officers who man the unit usually knock off at 5pm and the container houses no phones.

The severe shortage of traffic officials on the Peninsula is also seen as a key factor in the high number of road accidents on the Peninsula.

The Cape Town traffic department has taken on no new staff since 1999. "Some days we are two traffic officials on duty in the city because people are sick, are on courses or posts have been made redundant," said a traffic officer working in the city centre.

"You can't quote me; we were told we'll be fired if we talk to the media."

Cape Town has 1 561 Metro Police officers, including traffic and law-enforcement personnel. Jonas refused to say how many officers are on duty at night. "Criminals also plan and work out their modus operandi -- I cannot give you those figures."

In January last year 7 819 people were hurt on the city's roads -- a figure that rose to 10 775 in June that year. "Every month the figure goes up," said Velma Lou from the Metropolitan Transport Accident Information Centre. More recent statistics are not available.

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation's 2005 report, 11,8% of all reported accidents took place in the Western Cape. The estimated cost of fatal crashes countrywide increased by 3,3% from R8,6-billion in 2003 to R8,8-billion in 2004. The report says more than 90% of crashes countrywide are caused by lawlessness.
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