At the beginning of the year, the community of Snake Park in Soweto, initiated volunteer patrols to keep their neighbourhood safe and crime free. In support of the patrollers, residents volunteered to keep a 10 pm curfew.
Buyisile Gasa, a single mother, has welcomed development after having family members raped by burglars. Twenty-nine-year-old Yonela Majola, who rents a backyard shack in the area, also welcomed this since she had previously been mugged on her way back home after a night out.
The two women, like other community members, had no idea that this agreement would end up with violent disputes and accusations of human rights violations. Barely three months later, that is exactly what is happening.
Bukiwe Speilman (24), alleged that she was assaulted by community patrollers while she was at home. She said the patrollers came to her house, accusing her boyfriend of stealing a phone. She said that they forcefully broke into their house while they were still sleeping and started beating her with sjamboks. She had also suffered sexual harassment in the incident.
As a result of her injuries, she was admitted to Jabulani Hospital for three weeks. After her hospital stay, she did not press charges, because the patrollers who had assaulted her had been suspended.
Bukiwe Speilman's injuries
The police commander at Snake Park Police Station, Charles Shabalala, said community members had opened cases against the patrollers, but no arrests were ever made because of a lack of evidence.
“People did come and open assault cases, but we can't arrest anyone because they don’t have witnesses,” said Shabalala.
A patroller, who wanted to remain anonymous, told fray.news that Spielman had been in the wrong place. He said even though they were not perfect, what they do helps keep their community safe.
“There are many criminals who have been caught in possession of drugs, knives, and guns our job is not easy, but we are proud that now the streets are clean and criminals are now scared to rob, rape, and kill in our community,” he said.
Despite the allegations, community members like Gasa and Majola remain happy to have the patrollers in their community, because they feel safer with them.