I came to Muizenberg from an average suburb in Johannesburg with high walls, electric fences, and armed patrols where very few people knew the names of their neighbours. I walked two blocks between home and work, I walked to the shops – and seldom saw anyone on the street. I got on chatting terms with gardeners and maids in the few houses that had high fences instead of solid walls, but spoke to just one-next door neighbour twice in seven years. A few of us attempted to start a “Block Watch”, but were thwarted by almost total lack of interest. Residents chose to hire commercial security companies or night watchmen. Expenditure on various layers of “Security” soon topped R1,000 per month.
Muizenberg looked like a village by comparison – surely there would be a sense of Community here and it would be easier to become part of it? Of course, re-establishing my business in a new city took its toll on my time and hampered community involvement, but within six months I knew three neighbours by name. I learned the name of a fourth neighbour at 09h00 one morning when I heard screaming in the street and dashed out to investigate – she’d been robbed of her shopping and all her keys within the width of the road between her parked car and her front gate. It was obvious that crime was on the increase; brass street numbers and front porch light-fittings were stolen in batches from houses in my street; cars were broken into, but there was still no sign of active Community involvement.
Then, a young girl was murdered in a nearby suburb…
It finally got through to people that threats to our village lifestyle were mounting. “Somebody” had to do “Something”. A Village resident called a house-meeting at which it became clear to me that MCSI had been in existence for some years, but support had been poor, a sad commentary on community involvement. Nevertheless, it was decided to establish patrols in a small area of the village, volunteers were called for, and membership of MCSI was encouraged. I’m well on the wrong side of 60, I am self-employed in a demanding job that averages a fourteen hour day most days of the week, often extending to eighteen hours. At first I thought I wouldn’t have time to become involved with MCSI. I am not at all confrontational by nature and was a little wary of getting involved in something that had the potential to develop into a bunch of Alpha Males strutting around harassing people. I was acutely aware, though, that I couldn’t rely on “Somebody” without making my own contribution. I’m a night-owl by nature and necessity, so taking an unpopular late-night shift would be no real hardship anyway.
Those first patrols, on foot and by car, were a revelation. There were astonishing numbers of people just “wandering around” Muizenberg in the early hours! The fact that loiterers generally hurried away at our approach was in itself suspicious. Even when “off duty”, we would be running across the village several times a month, responding to a WhatsApp alert reporting an intruder on a property. We seldom actually encountered anybody, but I’m convinced that intruders were spooked by the unexpected arrival of between two and six people, a Grit vehicle, and on one occasion, armed Police.
Over just a couple of months I noticed fewer and fewer people on the streets of Muizenberg during the hours of darkness, and reports of intruders all but stopped.
Of course there was a kick-back. For a while there was a noticeable increase in harassment and petty crime during the afternoon, but eventually that also diminished. I know of very few face-to-face confrontations with criminals – it was simply the message that the community was alert that was effective. Since then, with a few exceptions, my night patrols have been uneventful, even boring. Which means they have made a difference. It doesn’t mean we can neglect them.
All the patrollers, to my knowledge, have demanding day jobs. At a guess, the average age is in the mid-forties. A dozen out of the forty are women. All could probably do with more sleep, but “Somebody” has to do it! We could do with more “Somebodies”…
“Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty. Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4,1777