(For a blow by blow account of minutes and reports click:Community Policing the Quigney )
Quigney Beachfront (top) Sleeper Site over lookingTutton Tearrace (bottom)
One decade in fixing crime-riven Quigney
The Quigney CPF Sub-forum established 1997 and denouement 2007
In November 1997, Captain Nxafani, the Community Policing Officer SAPS (East London of the Fleet Street) did the rounds to motivate stakeholders in all suburbs of his policing precinct to call public meetings, and to prepare for the launch of a Community Policing Forum Sub-forums. Quigney, the showpiece of the Quigney, was the first to respond with canvassing of community members and stakeholders in weekly meetings explaining and work shopping key documents, such as the Interims Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, SAPS ACT of 1995, the Policy and Guidelines for Stetting up Community Policing Forums as well as the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) document published in 1996. This was an unusual step as by far the majority of Community Policing Forums were set up without the felt need to back up their initiatives by such a wide ranging schooling project. But then this was precisely what made the launch of the CPF in the Quigney so unique. Quigney was the home of a set of experienced people ranging from Military Officers and soldiers (mainly serving in the commandos), tope ranking members of the ANC / Alliance and members, students of Fort Hare (now Rhodes) University, as well as activists serving in key NGOs with a singular interest in establishing a new order of policing.
All these parties had training and in policing-in-transition, with experience in different fields if not opposing sides, and had to find one another before coming together in one initiative. In fact this was a mini “CODESA” for the Quigney as key ANC members were involved in the Provincial ANC Peace and Monitoring Team (prior the 1994 election), and had intricate, practical knowledge working in committee of the National Peace Accord. The police, who became the anchor party in the mini “CODESA” had their own background and stood central in the project sometimes encouraging and applauding progress in what was known as the Quigney Interim Forum, sometimes expressing concern at the way things were going. To a large extent many of these concerns were a carry over from our participation in the National Peace Committees, which included the ANC / Alliance, all other parties, the South African Police, South African Defence Force and international observer missions. Were it not for professional police officers on the international observer missions it is doubtful whether any head way in finding consensus would have been found for South Africa to get beyond 1994.
Eventually the interim committee was ready for a formal launch. This entailed launching as a Sub-Forum of the East London Community Policing Forum, attached to East London (Fleet Street) SAPS Station. We were then to function under the umbrella of the Community Policing Forum (CPF) Fleet Street SAPS. In the end this would prove to be unfortunate as the quality and magnitude of our work was swamped by many other Sub-forums in the precinct most of which were weak, unstable and riddled with political infighting and factions. If the Quigney was the showpiece of East London with by far the most traffic coming and going on a daily basis (the CBD was included in the Sub-Forums jurisdiction), many of the real problems experienced hardly manifest at full meeting of the CPF where all Sub-forums were present, let alone at Area Board Meetings, or even Provincial Board meetings where the voice of the Quigney was smothered altogether.
The launch meeting took place in November 2000. Total attendance at the meeting, held in the Quigney Baptist Church indicated the level of interest in community for policing in partnership with the SAPS. About 300 people attended. The election of the first Sub-forum Executive Committee in itself was quite remarkable for its diversity of leadership:
Berend Schuitema: Chairperson (SACP);
Joe de Vries: Deputy Chairperson (Previous Neighbourhood Watch/ Commandos);
Tembakazi Tuku: Secretary (ANC / SADTU)
Umesh Hariba: (Small businessman)
Colonel Don Wilkins: Communications Officer (SANDF Commandos)
Tozama Hela (ANC / Marshals)
Molly Bruce: (Ratepayers Association)
Beryl Parsons: (Representing Churches)
This combination of leadership was interesting for a number of reasons. The Quigney at that time was a white middle class suburb but at the same time with a coming and going of many new residents (black) who gave the suburb a dormitory character. Things were changing and changing fast. The Quigney was compared to Hillbrow in Johannesburg, much smaller, but similar crime characteristics. In fact, Quigney was at once “Lower Bunkers Hill” (the poor cousin of an up class white suburb just up the hill and across the Blind River from the Quigney), and the “Hillbrow of East London:”. Many members of the ANC, COSATU and the SACP worked in offices in East London but after 1994 moved on to become politicians in provincial councils or parliament in Cape Town. Many went on to work in Bhisho, but moved away from the Quigney to places like Bunkers Hill or other prime suburbs like Beacon Bay and Gonubie. By the time the Quigney CPF Sub-forum was established the suburb was still very much in flux and reinventing itself after its formerly being a Mecca for holiday makers from he inland. For many East London was the place to go to for retirement. Then things changed with the passing of times; old age homes were later all converted to house temporary sojourners. The Quigney has character and transformed from its previous sleep and laid back character a a new sort of Mecca: a crucible for experimentation with a special form of community policing.
The old (white) residents had many problems because of apparent “degradation” of the Quigney, high crime figures, and a variety of service delivery problems like pavements not being kept up, garbage not collected on time, a proliferation of homeless children (“street children”), informal taverns and growing numbers of prostitutes plying their way on the streets at night. The black population shared some of these concerns but their main issue to ensure that beach facilities remained open to all, especially over the festive season when up to 100,000 showed up as a legacy of “swarming” this facility previously reserved for "whites". This became part of the liberation movement’s folklore and people from all over the province still turn up in great numbers every festive season, come rain, hail or sunshine.
A second feature of the newly appointed Executive was simply the fact that white and blacks were represented in roughly even numbers, Three members serving as office bearers on the Sub-forum Committee were from the "old" Quigney (Colonel Don Wilkins, SADF; Joe de Vries, a folk hero in the Quigney and often referred to as “The Mayor”, Molly Bruce a very staunch activist and driving force of the old Quigney Ratepayers Association. And on the opposite side we had Berend Schuitema of the SACP; and two more comrades serving as office bearers in one or other ANC/COSATU/SACP Alliance structure. There never was an issue related to this amalgam of backgrounds and residents in general applauded the “rainbow” make up of the new Executive. All felt at home and secure but for one thing: the presence of quite a few ANC Community Marshals at the launch meeting of the Quigney Sub-forum. This rankled with many for quite some time.
The marshals being at the meeting had no particular hidden agenda. Tozama and I had been working in the Marshal Structures since the mid 1980s. The marshals were the former “foot soldiers of the struggle” making up Area and Street Committees who were acclaimed for making “Apartheid ungovernable”. After 1994 the marshals were proposed by the ANC for further training and skilling in crowd control as community police and facilitators. However, in 1997 the idea was canned, with the obvious route suggested for them to become involved in formal Community Policing Structures. This made a lot of sense. Among the remnants of the marshal structures it was felt that direct participation in their own communities as Sub-Forums was the preferred way to go. Many chose to go to SANDF, many joined private security companies. For those opting to reformat as Community Policing structures, they could link up and interact with one another as a “bottom up” structure. Horizontally organized the the lessons of the preparatory work done in the Quigney could have considerable interactive impact over large areas. It was for this reason that we had invited a number of marshals to the launch meeting of the Quigney Sub-forum, not giving any thought that it might not have been received very well, especially by the ex-commando and neighbourhood watch elements at the meeting. So reservations were expressed but in the end it was explained that they were merely observers from “other Sub Forums”. Colonel Wilkins played a really effective reconciliation role.
A third feature that emerged from the launch of the Quigney Sub-Forum was the experience embedded in the new Executive. Again, the role of Colonel Don Wilkins in particular was a blessing. His sense of professional ethics kicked in and playing a background role his style and preference, leading from the front his practice. He was also still active in the new SANDF and over the festive seasons, when old white residents got excited about the many blacks moving through to the beaches during November, December and January, he had platoons of commandoes patrolling in the Quigney in military style. Even though this was reminiscent of the conflict days, no one got excited as it went with the blessing of the Quigney Sub-forum trusted by all.
Don and I also got to know of one another years earlier on. He was regularly deployed by the SADF to attend National Peace Committee meetings where a whole range of issues were discussed which later stood us in good stead as CPF activists. The Peace Accord meetings were also attended by observer missions from the UN, the EU, and the Commonwealth, including professional police officers as part of these delegations. In those early years Community Policing was far from clear, it meant different things to different people. A home grown style of Community policing was not yet a viable option and gradually aid organizations had to be imported from the UK and US for implementation. It was remarkable that the police officers on the foreign missions still regarded community policing as an untried concept, particularly as it was understood in South Africa, where much discussion was still required regarding police transformation. A memorable note from these early discussions was a suggestion made by one of the top SAP police officers at one of the Peace Accord meetings that the old guard officers of the Security Police function as Community “liaison” officers, thus no need for any direct engineering of new community structures. The other idea that found its way into the social clauses of the National Peace Committee (Chapter 5) also supported by Colonel Wilkins, was to replicate the Joint Military Committees charged with development from the pre-1990 period. Those were interesting meetings!
As indicated, in the National Peace Accord a special chapter was devoted to social reconstruction. This chapter 5 became an issue for very extensive debates. It was obvious that social conditions, shortage of houses, mass migration from rural to urban areas, all seen as factors spilling out high crime levels, had to be tackled alongside any viable crime prevention strategy. Again here Colonel Wilkins was vocal about the approach of the SADF in centralizing community development as part of its “win the hearts and minds” strategy.
Another interesting feature of the Peace Accord Committee meetings was the serious challenge encountered by SAP and SADF regarding crowd control at mass marches and gatherings. The Commonwealth Observer Mission pointed out their observations that the Community Marshals were well equipped and accepted by the people to play a frontline role in crowd control. Furthermore, they could do with additional, elementary police training to fulfil this task while the police and soldiers could perform a background, observation role. The Commonwealth then deployed a number of professional police to train community marshals, province-by-province. In the Eastern Cape this training was highly successful despite the poor level of education, a direct result of their being former members of Street and Area Committee members. One of the youth slogans was “no education before liberation”. Most of the youth emerged after liberation with little or no education. For 90% the marshals had at most lower primary education. With additional training provided by the British police officers they turned out to be very effective crowd controllers; they replaced all official crowd control policing during the festive seasons on the Quigney beaches. Subsequent to the collapse of the Qgozo puppet regime in the former Ciskei, marshals were mobilised on a large scale and occupied to defend the commercial areas in Mdantsane and Fort Jackson. They had the numbers for this type of deployment – in the Border Region of the Eastern Cape 10,000 marshals could be mobilized. This action after the fall of Qgozo pre-empted a repeat after the fall of the Sebe regime, when the whole Mdantsane went up in flames with widespread looting and rioting. Mdantsane is the second largest South African township, after Soweto being the largest. Then again, the marshals proved their effectiveness during the Bhisho massacre by their skilful actions to extricate many thousands of protesters from the line of fire. 73 demonstrators were killed.
Community Policing Forums and Sub-Forums
I have gone into great detail on the marshals and the “double agenda” surrounding their presence at the launch of the Quigney CPF Sub-forum. As pointed out, this agenda was benign but later on, after a number of years, the strategy of linking up local Sub-forums horizontally came up against serious opposition from the Provincial Government. Apart from the Quigney, a number of former marshal structures reformatted as CPF Sub-forums, became active horizontal cooperation between them and tended to “collapse” higher structures. Because of their closeness and common approach to linking and facilitating their own communities, they tended to dominate in the CPFs where they were represented, as well as in Area Board meetings where all CPFs from specific police regions met. At one Area Board meeting the government representative declared that “many Sub-forums are too big for their boots”. Well, this may be true, depending on what way we look at the accusation.
It is true in two ways. First, given the fact that there was unity and a common approach, marshal-based Sub-forums were able to sway arguments in their favour at both the CPF level and at higher structures. And secondly, being linked and from their own communities, with a history of involvement, they were able to implement crime prevention programmes much more effectively than most CPFs that were poorly connected in their communities. Many, if not most CPFs and Sub-forums had no direct interaction with their communities and became political footballs. In this there is a major flaw in the entire community policing project. Many members who were serving as executive members in CPFs or higher structures, had no involvement whatsoever in actual community policing in their communities. They were elected not from community policing enthusiasts, but from an elite favoured by party political factions. This was a consequence of how the draft proposals and guidelines for implementing CPF structures were formulated. There was no stipulation that members who get elected should become involved with hands on community policing. This became obvious in the way Area Boards were run. The vast majority of the people attending as “community members” were either Councillors, or political party lobby groups masqueraded as members “of the general public” looking for community positions of influence and some power. They had no interest other than that in becoming elected.
At CPF and Area Board meetings we argued that only people who are directly involved with crime prevention work should be allowed to open meetings of these structures when voting took place for new office bearers. We had many Community Policing Officers from a number of SAPS stations arguing along the same lines. We also had the police union, POPCRU onside and often Nxafani, the POPCRU shop steward at Fleet Street SAPS, would go in to bat for this position at Area Board meetings. Officers like he wanted functional structures they could work with, and not disinterested members "of the broad public" cladding structures that became dysfunctional.
To “solve” this contradiction, Area Boards took issue with Sub-forums as being “too big for their boots”, and pushed through a resolution with the provincial government that Sub-forums be scrapped. Or at least lose their elective mandates. It was no easy task to simply disband the Sub-forums. For while there were a few "too big for their boots", there were many more who were their for platforms to advance political ambitions. What did emerge later, with the restructuring of SAPS and the introduction of Sector Policing, was an instruction that Sub-forums, where active, become functional as Sector Crime Forums. This happened in 2006.
Implementing the National Crime Prevention Strategy
As mentioned above, a number of the members of the Quigney Sub-forum had backgrounds that encompassed experiences in the National Peace Accord Structures, as well as intensive knowledge of the National Crime Prevention Strategy document. So once the structure was elected, we had a pretty good idea of how to go about designing a crime prevention strategy and programme of action for the Quigney.
At the very first meeting a few quality decisions were taken. The Sub-forum members would meet once a week. A general meeting for all residents in the Quigney was held every month where an average number of 150 residents turned up. This made the Sub-Forum the bane of political parties who had problems to muster 20 people at most, let alone satisfy quorums to meet at all.
Another decision was that we would invite the Station Commissioner (Director James Vos) to attend the open public meetings. He brought along with him not only the Community Policing Officer (Captain Nxafani) but often more members of his staff to our weekly meetings. The Ward Councillor Avis Rens, (DA) attended ex-officio. Also, in order to facilitate communication a regular monthly newsletter, the Quigney Voice would report on all matters, public meetings, CPF, Sub-forum and Area Board meetings. Regular columns were reserved for the Ward Councillor and SAPS. It was, and is still symptomatic that most people do not make a distinction between crime and grime problems as such. As the two are closely connected, we found in Avis Rens a foot soldier of the first order taking up residents issues concerning service delivery issues. We allowed her a monthly column in the Quigney Voice to report back to residents.
The first general meeting held was set up as a workshop. We engaged experienced members of two NGOs to give the public an idea of what the CPF, Sub-forum and NCPS was all about. This was quite an interesting event as most people were not accustomed even to the idea of “workshops” but took these meetings as open meetings where people could shout and cause a raucous with whatever bothered them.
Be that as it may, from the first public meeting we listed the following information regarding crime as experienced by residents and businesses in the Quigney:
1. Informal Taverns (Shebeens)
2. Derelict buildings, overcrowding of houses
3. Homeless Children
4. Prostitution and Sex Workers
5. Noisy parties in the streets at night / Noise and loud music from bars and clubs
With this washing list of problems we set about working on solutions. Of course, the solution to one often cross cuts and solves another.
IInformal Taverns / Shebeens
Our first approach was to make an inventory of addresses from where illegal taverns were operating. This was not easy as sometimes only illegal liquor sales were taking place with clients merely knocking at the back door and purchasing whatever it was they desired. This happened after hours. It was also difficult to prove that a tavern was operating merely because the police could go in and find a few people sitting around a table and drinking. What is more, running an illegal tavern was by its very definition illegal and implied the operator having evasion skills. However, regular raids, while randomly effective, did tend to expose known faces and places to the police. Often stolen property that was sold on by thieves could be found on the premises. So the beginning of the campaign against illegal liquor outlets was a question of trial and error with successes gradually escalating as the police became more effective with the information that we produced. Eventually, a few years down the line, the new Liquor Act stipulated that those taverns operating illegally were given a six months grace period in which to get licenses, with additional stipulations, such as proximity to schools or churches, or in areas where there were no commercial rights for the properties concerned. The ball was in our court. With these measures the number of illegal taverns in the Quigney were reduced from about forty to almost nil within a few years.
A regular problem with the Shebeens was violence associated with alcohol consumption, rape and assaults of women moving homewards at closing hours (mostly in the very early hours of the morning), or muggings at known crime hotspots of which there were five in the Quigney, mainly close to the Fleet Street garage or ATM machines.
Derelict buildings standing empty are the scourge of any neighbourhood. Not only do they lead to dropping of property values in the immediate vicinity, the decay spreads. In seeking a solution Colonel Wilkins here made reference to the “Broken Windows” approach preached by William Bratton, a NYPD Police Commissioner. One has to intervene and find out what the problems are the very moment it is noticed that buildings, houses or commercial properties are sliding towards dereliction. One has to look for the reasons for the onset of decay. Often houses were simply abandoned by their owners. Often they were rented out and packed with people ready to pay low rentals. Often they were used for running of illegal taverns, brothels, or simply hang out spots for indigent people who often turned to crime to make a living. By far the worst problem is that derelict buildings are places where thieves can hide out, where drugs can be stashed and traded. We found that mainly homeless children made use of derelict buildings. Raids on these buildings often produced evidence of thefts, like empty wallets and bank cards, and on occasion a thief could be caught in the midst of trading, say selling a TV set for R50 which could then be spent in a tavern for alcohol or drugs...
When the Sub-Forum started in the Quigney 2000, there were a number of places where derelict buildings had caused devastation to whole neighbourhoods. One infamous place was a derelict hotel, the Beach Hotel, close to the beach front at the lower end of Fitzpatrick Street. It was in the process of serial reconstructions, each occasion being abandoned because a lack of funds or any such other problem. But mostly left open at night and a haunt for homeless children and adult people by day and night. There was also a political problem in that the building, being many decades old, qualified as a heritage site and its being demolished prohibited. Eventually a property dealer, working by stealth, was able to get the building condemned. The new owner, Real People, then flattened the area and constructed a parking area.
Another derelict building that caused almost a decade of headaches and decay on the beach front, was the old Kings Hotel. This was one of the oldest and classiest of hotels on the beach front. The owner, a Norbert Baumker, got it into his head that he could have access to much money if he smashed the hotel to the ground with a plan to build a convention centre. Later, once it became clear that Baumker would not succeed in accessing the needed funs, a group of activists proposed that the project be declared bankrupt, that they, a group called Comrades For Christ, buy Baumker out for a nominal sum of R 200, and prepare to build the huge convention complex as a cooperative to be run by returning exiles. After the demolition was complete, Baumker engaged Murray and Roberts to commence with the massive project which would extend some 100 meters along the beachfront. Then the funding arrangements collapsed. His dealing for a $ US 50 million in Finrand with the infamous BCCI came unstuck, and Murray and Roberts had to hang on to the rudimentary structures for years, without a buyer coming forward.
This half built structure also became a haunt for homeless children. The problem was further aggravated by a middle aged women who thought it a saintly idea to take care of these kids by accessing food that passed the “sell by dates” at super markets. Feeding the kids fed her own ambitions and for some time she delayed action being planned by the police against delinquent children on the basis that “I am getting funding to build an orphanage”. After being challenged time and again on her credentials and a statement from where and from whom the mooted massive funds would come, her operation went belly up. By then the homeless kids had become accustomed to living like rats in the derelict structures. Like was the case with the old Beach Hotel, the whole neighbourhood was affected by petty robberies. This problem was only properly solved once the derelict structures were bought up years later for the construction of the present King’s Centre, in which amongst other businesses, Virgin Active is situated.
Apart from a few smaller buildings that had become derelict, like Bellamy’s in lower Quigney, a problem of a whole other order was the so-called Sleeper Site, a five acre stretch of vacant land that was originally used by the old South African Railways as a goods shunting yard that had been dismantled in 1972. It lies immediately adjacent the lower street of the Quigney, Tutton Terrace. There were concrete and steel structures left after demolition of the yard and still in place until a year or so ago. These old bunkers and tunnels were absolutely ideal for indigent people to use as living abodes, or again, where thieves had ample opportunity and space to hide away stolen goods which could be fenced at leisure in the various illegal taverns, in licenced bars or an ideal moment sought to take larger stolen goods through to the taxi rank in the CBD. And of course, for homeless children the Sleeper Site was more than a playground, but an area relatively unobserved with plenty of hiding places. On a number of occasions young girls would come out crying and when asked what the matter was, we had to hear that they were gang raped by young boys who were demanding their share of prostitution earnings. So besides all the other hindrances, this Sleeper Site became the stomping ground for these young pimps, but often expensive cars could be followed in which we found on occasion well heeled gentlemen having sex with prostitutes, young and old.
The Sleeper Site is owned by PROPNET, the property arm of Transnet. There are many other PROPNET properties in and around the Quigney, but none left to breed crime as was the case with the Sleeper Site. However, another property was a strip of ground that led to a passenger overpass bridge across the railway line at East London station. The access to this bridge was overgrown with bush, much the same as the Sleeper Site itself, and because working people were using it to get to and from work from the CBD, they were easy prey for muggings and robberies. This was an almost daily occurrence. This gave rise to a huge public outcry and PROPNET decided to condemn the bridge crossing and have it fenced off.
The Sleeper Site is cause for concern to this day. Our first approach was to do the obvious, to send letters to PROPNET HQ in Port Elizabeth. From there the letters were serially referred to the local PROPNET manager whose offices in the Quigney were close to the Sleeper Site. He in turn would convey our complaints back to PROPNET PE, eventually this merry go round landed with the GM of PROPNET in Cape Town. But there was never any real response. Eventually residents came up with a proposal at a general meeting that the Sleeper Site be used for community purposes, fenced off and at least made safe for children. But there was again no response. The only action left open to us was to be constantly in the media complaining about the Sleeper Site, and the no-care attitude of PROPNET as well as government. We got petitions signed but all to no avail. SAPS Fleet Street were of great help and regularly, with community members, would comb the area for stolen goods and locate indigent people and lend them assistance for alternative housing through the Municipality.
Of no less a hinder in the Quigney was another PROPNET asset, namely the old Naval / Military base adjacent to the East London Harbour. It was kept locked but inquisitive people with strange ideas had no problem in cutting holes in the fencing to gain entry. During one tour of the base we got to enter the bunkers beneath the huge WWII naval guns facing towards the sea. In each one of the six bunkers we found evidence of Satanist activity taking place. When this was brought to the attention of the press PROPNET did act quickly and had these bunkers sealed.
Again, at a residence meeting it was suggested that the base be leased to a community organization for a variety of activities, like small crafts, club houses and sports fields. Most of the barracks and other facilities on the base were still in reasonable condition. However this proposal was rejected by PROPNET. Given the rotten relationship that existed with the Sub-forum, PROPNET chose to lease the entire base to a vigilante group, Militia Guards, at a nominal rent. This caused a huge upset in the Quigney as Militia Guards were actually proposing to take over the role of SAPS and patrol the whole of the Quigney in military style, marching platoons in formation day and night. Eventually the Sub-Forum was able to have them ejected with the full support of SAPS. (See Blog “Vigilantes”).
In the Quigney Voice Colonel Wilkins often wrote articles about the negative effect of derelict properties enunciating the well known “Broken Windows” theory. This pronounced that if a building had one broken window and left unattended, soon there would be two broken windows, soon more and there after we find not only the building or house going derelict but the rot infecting the entire neighbourhood. Nowhere was this more visible than in the Quigney and especially adjacent to the Sleeper Site where almost all houses in Tutton Terrace became room renting establishments, becoming over crowded, maintenance became of no more concern to owners as they left the management over to one or two tenants who were asked to collect the rent. Thus the whole of Tutton Terrace rapidly degenerated and the same signs of slumming spreading inwards to the Quigney. Indeed, Tutton Terrace and adjacent houses in Longfellow Street became illegal taverns with ready access to the Sleeper Site for hiding stocks of liquor, drugs and stolen property.
In the end perseverance won the day and tackling problems one by one the Quigney was eventually cleaned up. Ward Councillor Rens was able to get the Quigney zoned as a development area. This meant that renovations to houses and buildings as well as new construction became subsidised by the government. While the Sleeper Site is still vacant land, it at least has been taken over by the Municipality with a plan to construct a by pass road linking Fitzpatrick and Currie Streets for large trucks to use. This work has not yet commenced more than seven years down the line.
At our first public meeting, which was meant as a workshop to look at actual problems people were experiencing in the Quigney, the issue of homeless children roaming the streets and especially around the beach front area was vociferously expressed. We had no idea at that time the extent of the problem, but once we sank our teeth into it we found that actually their numbers were reasonably low and in the order of about 100.
The problems experienced with the homeless children went hand-in-hand with the proliferation of illegal taverns. Kids would hang out, often meeting up with mature men who would get then involved in housebreaking activities. The reason for this modus operandi was that, if caught, the children could not face being jailed, but released to the care of their parents. Or more often simply released by the SAPS if their parents could not be located as locking them up and charging them was both a tedious process and, in the end, not worth it for not being able to follow up with prosecution. Secondly, many of the young boys were chosen for their small body size. This meant that they could easily be lifted through burglar gating in windows, enter premises and open doors from the inside.
But often the youngsters would do the housebreakings on their own accord and showed skill at sneaking into and out of houses even while the residents were present or asleep. What they stole almost immediately was taken to an illegal tavern and traded for alcohol or drugs. They always seemed to know where to go to fence material. Television sets and larger goods were hidden away in either a derelict building or the Sleeper Site, and after a few days sold off to people at the taverns but not actually brought to the taverns. The reason for this cautionary approach in the fencing of expensive goods was that the theft was normally swiftly reported and police surveillance of known places was the first step in police investigation. Also the homeless children community was small and although very street wise in keeping secrets among themselves, we did have a method of detection which was quite unique. Tembakazi Tuku, a member of the Sub-forum, was a school teacher and had a mother of a number of children of her own who regularly played on the streets and getting to know the homeless kids by name and places where they stayed. Children are children and get to know one another soon. Through Tembakazi’s boys other resident mothers' kids could be involved. This was probably the most effective intelligence network existent in the Quigney. Once a theft was reported these kids from established families and living in the Quigney were brought together and soon the culprit could be mustered. They knew homeless kids ring leaders and by going out and asking around we were soon to put together a patrol group to visit places where stolen goods were often recovered. Also a distinction had to be made between two types of homeless kids: kids living on the streets, finding places to live in derelict buildings, and become totally de-socialized from any form of family life or community bonding. Then there were kids who lived off the streets by day but who returned to their homes at night. These kids normally came from poor informal settlements in and around the Quigney. In both cases, working through the home kids "intelligence" network proved highly effective.
We carried the homeless children item on the agenda of the weekly meetings month after month, but striking an effective solution kept eluding us. It was an uncanny situation: solve the illegal Shebeen / derelict buildings problem and the street children would lose their hangouts and places where they could fence stolen goods. And while we could chip away on the derelict buildings and were eventually able to clamp down on illegal Shebeens, it took time. Eventually the police, through the police, out of desperation announced a plan that all “street kids” would be rounded up and trucked to some far off place and simply dumped there. This shook up media attention and added resourcefulness to solve the problem.
Residents in the Quigney also had very ambivalent feelings towards the homeless kids. Black residents would rebuke them, take them to the police and ensure that they get taken back to where they came from, preferably reunited through social development services with their families. But this rarely worked as no sooner were the kids relocated to their families and they could be found back in the Quigney.
Some churches felt that the plight of the kids was handy preaching material from pulpits and set up soup kitchens. While most laudable the problem was that once these soup kitchens became known adult people, mostly genuinely indigent but sometimes abusing these occasions to be in the Quigney and do some walking around and looking for soft targets to break in and rob. This defeated the good intentions of well meaning people.
Clearly another solution had to be found where some sort of trusted shelter could be established, where kids could be fed and offered medical attention, some teaching and provide a branch they could come and perch on and learn to socialize. The Sub-forum then appealed to Rhodes University for a survey to be done with suggested solutions. We formed a Task Group which included the SAPS Child Protection Officer, two students doing the survey work at Rhodes, plus members of the Sub-forum. After about two months a plan of action was ready to establish a drop in centre for the kids. Through the Quigney Voice we called for volunteers to run with the plan and soon found a person who had her heart vested in the plight of homeless kids. Bernadette Meaker volunteered to head the new initiative, set about finding a venue, asking for donations from businesses and churches, recruited more volunteers and soon twice a week there were happy faces, about fifty or more of them, being fed, getting medical attention, some teaching and generally love, care and attention. This turned out to be a great success and soon a board was assembled and so Sakh'ingomso Child Care Centre came into being. The Department of Social Development took an interest and through networking among a number of other smaller initiatives the homeless children became a dwindling feature of the social landscape in the Quigney, if not East London as a whole.
2 Prostitution and Sex Workers
Even though the Quigney is the main beach front area of East London and in the Apartheid days a popular holiday resort, today it seems to have lost its attraction for tourism. The people who come to the Quigney are mainly locals, and often looking for a night out on the town. Not that the Quigney has so much to offer although until recently there were at least four to five large pool bars that attracted large numbers of patrons. Many complained that the Quigney was degenerating into the “Hillbrow of East London”, but this was much exaggerated. A “small” Hillbrow maybe, crime always there but never really rife as in “big Hillbrow”, no large numbers of migrants from other African countries although the few Nigerians who have settled here all seem to have a reputation. Incidents of xenophobia are unknown in the Quigney, or East London for that matter, although there are incidents reported from Mdantsdane. Apart from two pool bars which are run by Nigerians, the bulk of the entertainment business is in the hands of locals.
Initially the Escort Agencies were not much of an issue, except when a few mission minded residents took it upon themselves to “rid the Quigney of prostitution”. Even though the Escort Agencies by the nature of their business tend to be discrete in what they do, are well run and normally quiet, a few provocative actions by such residents did rock the boat occasionally. One of our own Sub-forum members had to be taken to task for throwing bricks on roofs of Escort Agencies and sometimes breaking asbestos sheeting.
Street prostitution was not rife but people who were inclined to make use of their services would stop and pick them up on street corners to enjoy whatever it was they were doing at the Sleeper Site or other convenient place. The only hassles were howls of protest from individual residents who lived on corner houses or in streets where street prostitution was convenient both to clients and their "service providers". The complaint was not so much moral indignation, but about the possible impact on their property's value.
Above I have mentioned the activities of a homeless children gang who were pressing young homeless girls into prostitution and taking part in the proceeds. Indeed, for quite some time the Sub-forum was speculating why the homeless kids were overwhelmingly boys, with only few girls visible. This incident of gang raping and pressing young girls to be pimped by homeless boys was a shocker, but turned out to be isolated incidents.
Probably families from where homeless kids came were more careful about letting their girls run away from home. Possibly there was always a plan to be made, like boarding young girls from indigent families with relatives or people keen to have girls around. Possibly this is a practice that can be associated with child sex rings, sex trading, abuse of children, but it hardly ever hit the radar of police surveillance. The Sub-Forum did discover, however, that many of the young girls plying the streets in the Quigney as prostitutes were homeless girls taken care of by “mothers” who would rent a house or flat, provide accommodation and meals in exchange for money earned from prostitution. In one of the more or less derelict flat buildings in lower Quigney we found this to be the case with about 20 young girls who were accommodated, and who could use the premises for “entertaining” their clients.
As the derelict buildings problem was gradually resolved. After the Quigney was declared a Development Area, home owners, business and flat owners started taking care of their assets as it meant that any upgrading was partly subsidized. Ward Councillor Avis Rens also made it her business to get existing control measures to clamp down on overcrowding of dwellings implemented. This also went a far way to effectively deal with places where informal “brothels” were operating.
For a few years it was palpably clear that the tide of rot and decay in the Quigney had been reversed. However, gradually there were other factors at work such as a growing number of students moving into the Quigney, closing down of old age homes and so overcrowding and poor maintenance of buildings became the order of the day again. And with that, after about 2007, street prostitution once more proliferated.
3 Bars, pool bars, night clubs, loud music and street parties
Over ten years significant changes took place in the formal sector of he liquor trade. While the informal taverns / Shebeens, were the main issue of contention this at sometimes unfairly rubbed off on the formal businesses, licensed pool bars, night clubs, even Escort Agencies (brothels) and discos. Not that there were not legitimate problems but they were of a nature which one would expect to be ongoing even before the transformation processes kicked in after 1994. The Quigney after all, prior to 1990, was a prime family holiday spot and without these facilities it would have fallen short. If holiday makers wished to come primarily for these facilities they would probably not have come to East London where the main attraction was the sea, and the very many little holiday villages along the coast right through into the old Transkei.
But the traditional problems were there. But holiday makers needed accommodation and the hotels provided for that. And where there are hotels, there are bars, discos and pool bars. And where there were bars and pool bars, and especially discos, there were always problems of noise that local residents could not deal with, street parties around these places which got out of control and went into the early hours of the morning. And these rowdy meetings often led to street fights, drag racing with cars and “wheelies” with powerfully noisy motor bikes.
After 1994 these problems proliferated and were not limited to unwelcome holiday makers from inland. Police had to be prepared for weekends and respond to complaints from residents regarding street noise and disturbances. The Sub-forum had to pitch in and provide volunteers to accompany the police in patrols and crowd control on Friday and Saturday nights.
With transformation came also change of the night life scene. All regulation seemed to be flouted, closing hours were non-existent and before long as hotels stopped functioning and more than half went bankrupt and derelict, the opening of pool bars and discos opened up as independent businesses in all available places where sufficient space was available. These were difficult to police as “new era” clients took to drinking in the streets before paying entrance fees to enjoy whatever was available in these new establishments.
Two of the noisiest pool bars/discos unfortunately decided to open beneath and close to retirement centres on the Esplanade, The Weavers and Woodholme. These were in tall buildings overlooking the sea, expensive and residents bought into these at great expense. So here we had a conflict which had to resolve.
Retirement residents vented their anger by attending the monthly meetings of the Sub-forum in great numbers. They were not to be appeased and tried all civil means to get their concerns addressed. The two main culprits were the discos “Corner Pocket” and “On the Rocks”. A disco on the lower end of Currie Street, Champs had a rather stiff entrance fee to keep the numbers entering down to manageable proportions. So here we had a special concomitant problem – to avoid the fee, and to gain entry and also avoid high prices they charged for drinks, they would have drinking parties in a large parking area directly opposite Champs, so Champs ended up have double trouble with half drunk people entering their premises. Meanwhile the loud noise, raucousness outside of their premises made the whole lower end of Currie Street put a Latin American Carnival to shame.
Within a few months opening up of pool bars and discos became endemic with three operating in close proximity on the Esplanade, four in Currie Street and three in Fleet Street, all within a block of one another. Police action was at first limited as mostly the noisiness took place on the street adjacent to these outfits. Eventually the law was interpreted so as to hold the owners responsible not only for what went on in their premises, but around their premises as well. However, threats to prosecute came to nothing as it was difficult to prove the connection.
As the issue of noise around discos and pool bars dragged on, eventually there was a public meeting where the issue was thrashed out. The owners of the offending outfits were invited to attend. Nothing was really resolved as two sides merely braced their backs: residents tackling the police for being useless; the owners saying they paid their taxes, were operating legally and some even being as brazen to tell the residents if the found the area too noisy they should pack up and go elsewhere. This put the cat among the pigeons! The fact that it affected mainly tenants of the retirement centres touched a raw nerve and the meeting broke up in chaos. The meeting took place sometime in 2002. It was clear that something had to be done. The residents voiced a wish to follow a political route and have the liquor licences revoked, and charged the Sub-forum to implement the plan. This was discussed in great detail at weekly meetings where we asked for the SAPS Fleet Street management to attend in addition to the liquor licensing officer, Inspector Stefaan Louw. Louw argued against the idea and suggested that Director Vos, the Station Commander, first make a final attempt at “zero tolerance” policing. What exactly this would entail was a mystery, but Director Vos known for his reconciliation skills on the streets, did undertake to employ “drastic action” over the next few weekends.
This is what the Director’s “zero tolerance” amounted to. He undertook “zero tolerance” that would run for as long as was needed.
Every weekend his entire crime prevention team would be mobilized and targeted for duty at all the “hotspots” in the Quigney”. Two police canters, long trucks with cages for arrested persons, would go along. Three spots were targeted:
- The Esplanade. Moving in by stealth at the busiest time at 11 pm. The entire block encompassing Corner Pocket and On the Rocks was cordoned off. About 20 to 30 uniformed police would swarm in and search every one. Per raid in this area “produced” up to 50 arrests per raid. A whole range of petty offences ended in arrest, urinating in public, drunk in public, drinking in public, including drinking in motor cars, loitering (prostitution as such is no offense!), possession of drugs, etcetera. But this was not all. The raid would then move to within the premises of Corner Pocket and On the Rocks and after a vigorous examination of the liquor license stipulations the police would move in, do random body searches, arrest people who had obviously consumed too much alcohol and cited the owners to allowing such people on their premises.
- Fleet Street. Much the same tactic was followed here but cordoning off the area was difficult as Fleet is a main thoroughfare. But one event is memorable. One of the offending outfits, located in the old Lock Street Jail, with an entrance opening onto Fleet Street, was owned and managed by an ANC MPL, Mike Basopu. During one of the raids he was found on the side walk with a glass of beer in his hand. He was told that he was trespassing for drinking in public to which he replied “who do you think you are! I make the laws around here!” Without any further argument the police arrested him and unceremoniously threw him into the canter!
- Champs, corner Currie Street Signal Road. Again, this area could not be cordoned off. But the police did block off the entire Orient Theatre parking lot with to the apparent glee of the owner of Champs. After all they were ripping him off on entrance fees. However to his surprise, once the police had filled a canter of petty offenders, they moved into his premises and gave him a work over as well.
This “zero tolerance” activity lasted about two months. It was exhaustive work and cost many overtime hours. A terribly negative attitude sprang up as people all over East London started complaining about this “draconian” form of policing. While people of the Weavers, the retirement complex, leant out of their windows cheering, the general public attitude towards the police certainly was negative. Many arrested went into the canters howling revenge, threatening going to the newspapers, some were tourists saying they would report this matter to their newspapers back home.
Some in the Sub-forum did not feel too easy about this back lash. One particularly nasty incident was indicative against the operation. A visitor from Johannesburg, a medical doctor, was drinking in the Corner Pocket and in the view of the police was drunk. He was arrested and was terribly upset for being dumped into the police canter with a mob of “hooligans”. Another incident which worried some members of the Sub-forum was the growing heavy handedness by a small number among the police, and especially with units called in like the traffic police for assistance. Once the canter started filling up it would take hours for it to get ordered back to Fleet Street to empty out and book the people in for the night in the police holding cells.
A discussion between the Director Vos, Inspector Louw amd the Sub-forum, came to a decision to invite the owners of the offending places for a meeting the liquor board in Bhisho. The intention was to find a way forward out of the situation which was costing both sides. The Sub-forum /Police, and the offending owners, clearly could not keep up this “zero tolerance” policing for long. To both sides it was costly.
We came to agreement with the Director of the Liquor Board to temporality call an end the police raids, on condition that a committee be put in place in which those aggrieved, especially the old aged homes, residents who were regular complainants, and all bars, discos and pool bars in the Quigney would be represented and meet once a month. After a few of these meetings an agreement was reached that the liquor traders would form themselves into a Quigney Tavern Forum and be charged with self policing and keeping the street areas outside of their premises clear of loitering and noisy behaviour. SAPS would attend these meetings. This turned out to be a winning outcome and only on rare occasions was there need to call for police intervention in the following years.
The period 1997 to 2007, when the Quigney CPF Sub-forum was active, provides a good, if not best example of community policing country wide. Of course the experience went largely under the radar as the Sub-forum was under the umbrella of the East London CPF and Area Board who mostly were prejudiced against the Quigney structure for “being too big for its boots”. This was understood, and predictable. Many of those who were in on the founding hours of the Quigney Sub-forum had a lot in common, active with the peace movements, the ANC, Street and Area Committees and Peace Committee strutures. The idea of breaking down vertical structures, collapsing hierarchies by building horizontal units which are more or less autonomous, is not a new one. Provisos are that they are interactive with one another, and above all integrated in the community, implementing community objectives. We had a good number of SAPS officers who were staunch supporters of social movement building. In fact, running more or less parallel to the Quigney Sub-forum were the activities of many POPCRU activists involved in the Jubilee Anti Debt and other social movements.
That eventually there was a powerful counteraction was taken for granted. This came not necessarily by design. The SAPS as a whole were grappling with a crime situation that seemed to be lost. While in the Quigney there were some strident and practical successes, SAPS Structures were being revamped from time to time, and each time leading to more paralysis in the system. Besides, voluntarism which was basic in the formation of the Quigney Sub-forum, was a bad word alongside governments Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy. This policy emphasised setting up of small businesses, outsourcing of SAPS work, and central control over community structures. The approach in the Quigney for many in the SAPS hierarchy seemed quirky to say the least. The Area Board Commissioner, now Major General Hloba, breathed fire and brimstone every time there was applause for the Quigney Sub-forum, especially from within the CPF / Police structures. He in the end was singularly responsible for destroying the initiative, by, amongst other things, prohibiting the publication of the Quigney Voice.
The onset of the end to this drama took place with the SAPS reconstruction in 2006. Community Policing Sub-forums had to fall in line command of SAPS, governed by dedicated Sector Managers. CPFs themselves had to merge in clusters and become integrated with municipal structures. The involvement of Ward Councillors put the nail in the coffins of independent CPFs/Sub-forums, and most definitely so in the Quigney.
By a rough rule of the thumb it is a truism that the ferocity of reactionary backlashes are proportional to the threats presented by vanguard community initiatives to hierarchical power structures. In the case of the Quigney Sub-forum this was painful to experience. Corrupting influences of Ward Councillors dominating in CPF structures, jealous of any patronage in apportioning positions and even jobs, disrupting projects over which they had no influence, played hand in hand with their sway over the new Cluster officers (a new hierarchical layer of structure put in place by the 2006 restructuring). In practice, a “resurrection” the Quigney Tavern Forum established by the community in collaboration with the Quigney Sub-forum and renamed the “Quigney Liquor Forum" under leadership of an Escort Agency owner (read: a common pimp!).
The Quigney has reverted to what it was. Much of course due to a huge new population of students of Fort Hare University, but the changing of posture by SAPS with regards to CPFs in general. Police are there to shoot to kill and civilians, and all community participation put aside with employment of large numbers of additional police and police reservists.