Volunteer community watches, patrollers, policing forums, private security companies and SAPS are on high alert tonight, as former president Jacob Zuma’s fraud and corruption trial resumes in the High Court tomorrow. They will continue to look out for any suspicious activity tomorrow, mindful of the warnings being shared on social media that there may be another flare up of violent protests.
Speaking on behalf of the Newcastle Community Policing Forum (CPF), Johan Pieters has urged residents not to share false or unconfirmed WhatsApp messages with friends and family, saying it creates unnecessary panic in the community.
“While we are on high alert and taking the threat to our security very seriously, there are also a lot of false WhatsApps going around. We would like to request the community not forward these WhatsApps. The community should rather rely on the information they receive in credible community groups which are sharing verified information,” said Pieters.
Earlier today, Pieters, through the Newcastle Growth Coalition, requested the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) be deployed to Newcastle. He confirmed his request was well received and is confident it will be sent to the KZN Premier’s office in the next few hours for review.
In the meantime, community volunteers who have been working around the clock since Monday with very little rest, are calling on more residents to join their efforts in keeping the town safe. Fresh eyes and ears on the ground will greatly improve the chance of detecting any suspicious activity and reporting it through the relevant channels before it becomes a crisis.
Residents who would like to volunteer can contact CPF chairperson, Rajesh Ramdaw on 082 321 7150, who will connect them with the team leader in charge of their respective area.
“The volunteer is the eyes and the ears of SAPS. The volunteer reports to the team leader at the point where he or she is assigned. If the volunteer observes any suspicious activity, he or she must immediately inform the SAPS member assigned to that point,” said Ramdaw, explaining the role of the volunteers.
Ramdaw added that volunteers must report for example, people who are not providing any essential services but are nonetheless roaming around after curfew. They must also be on the lookout for suspicious looking vehicles, vehicles without registration plates, vehicles carrying a large number of passengers, and vehicles transporting passengers who are carrying weapons or political regalia.
He explained volunteers are assigned a shift of a minimum of four hours depending on when they are available. They are required to keep a record of all the activity they observe during their shift as this information is presented to task team members during their daily meetings.
Volunteers need to be warmly dressed and should remember to carry a torch. Volunteers are not allowed to conduct stop and searches, be rude to members of the public and should not take their children or other vulnerable members of their family with them to the points they are guarding. All volunteers must be over the age of 18.
“There are 86 police officers divided into night and day shifts, working with the community,” advised Pieters. “However, the station is very constrained in terms of resources which is why we need volunteers to come on board.”
Up until now, calls for the community to come together to protect the town have been met with what Pieters has described as ‘overwhelming response’. According to Pieters, more than 250 volunteers came together at the meeting point at Hilldrop on Monday afternoon.
“These community members came together because they want to protect their families, the infrastructure and the town. They were aware of the destruction and looting which had already begun in Madadeni and Osizweni. We began by cordoning off the points of entry. We set up roadblocks, where community members were working with SAPS to deter any criminal activity from taking place. Volunteers parked alongside the road in numbers to observe. They were the eyes and ears of the SAPS. Wherever there was illegal and criminal activity it was reported and the SAPS reacted,” said Ramdaw.
He said the community came in numbers to assist and stood their ground, taking their positions through the night, patrolling at their own cost and using their own petrol. Community members who were unable to patrol or man a point provided meals. He applauded Newcastle for how people of all races came together to keep the town safe.
“There are quite a lot of community members that would contact us and say, tonight I would like to take hot dog rolls to the volunteers at a specific point. Tonight, Hutten Park Primary school is baking pancakes for everybody who is manning a point. The community is getting involved because they know they need to take care of the people who are manning those areas,” added Pieters.
“All the community members got together… Everybody is working together. There are lot of people who still want to be involved and I encourage them to get involved,” he concluded.