Cele’s Westbury effort too little, too late as shutdown set to go ahead

Planned protest action today in all coloured neighbourhoods in Gauteng is going ahead, residents say. Police officers have been placed on high alert.

The interventions announced by Police Minister Bheki Cele, which include the deployment of the Tactical Response Team (TRT) in the neighbourhood, have received mixed reactions from both the Westbury community and an expert, with doubts that it will be effective in the long run.

Meanwhile, community members say their shutdown of all so-called coloured neighbourhoods in Gauteng will go ahead as planned.

During a parade at the local sports ground, the police department showcased the numerous units that would be deployed to Westbury.

Residents said their planned protest action will not be deterred by Cele’s promises and “marching band”.

They are planning to roll out protest action in all coloured neighbourhoods in the province today.

Gauteng SAPS Brigadier Mathapelo Pieters said law enforcement officers have been placed on high alert and have increased visibility in potential trouble spots.

During his second visit to Westbury after the violent and destructive protests following the killing of a 41-year-old woman last week, Cele said while there were several task units in the area, the response team would be “permanently deployed”.

However, community members, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of their safety, were divided by the announcement.

Some said they wanted to remain optimistic and hopeful that the heightened police presence would deal with the issue.

Others were sceptical, saying yesterday’s display was just a show of force by the police ahead of the 2019 elections, and that they would only believe it would be effective when they see it.

One resident said: “This is basically just a front by the police about what they plan is going to happen. This is all good and well but this [drug] issue is now going to spill over to the nearby communities like Brixton, Auckland Park and others because it will stop here now.

“How are they also going to protect those other areas because they are all going to be here?”

Crime expert and researcher Johan Burger said he supported the deployment of the TRT because there is a need for more law enforcement and stabilisation in the area, but he also wasn’t completely sold.

“At this point the police are taking the right approach by increasing their presence in the area,” said Burger.

“However, we need to be cautious about the expectations of this deployment in solving the issues within the community that cause the drug problem, including unemployment, infrastructure and poverty.”

He said increasing their visibility in the area, with officers specially trained to deal with armed gangs, was a good move but would only provide temporary relief. He said police should also form investigative teams to deal with the issues of both accused drug lords and police officers that are involved in alleged bribery.

“They need to ensure it is more than just allegations and that proper investigations provide substantive evidence, and ensure the perpetrators are charged,” he said.

He suggested a joint effort between the police and other departments to provide a long-term solution to the problem. “It is also important to ask the right questions, like why the community experiences a large drug issue and are there deeper roots to the problem that need to be dealt with first?”

He said research had proven that socioeconomic conditions such as poor education, unemployment, poverty and poor infrastructure lead to other social conditions such as drug and alcohol abuse, which eventually evolves into what we had seen happen in Westbury.

jenniffero@citizen.co.za, additional reporting by Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

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