06 March 2007
by Sipho Masondo
Knysna, South Africa:
Community members in the crime-ridden areas near Knysna, South Africa have declared war on lawlessness.
Bambanani (isiXhosa for sticking together) is an organized volunteer group who attempts to put a stop to criminal activities, illegal shebeens or unlicensed drinking establishments and drug dealers in the greater Knysna area.
The Bambanani idea was initiated by the Western Cape government four years ago to ensure a safe festive season for its residents.
Volunteers patrol beaches and streets, and participate in anti-crime campaigns.
Four years down the line, the project has grown and reached many Southern Cape communities, including Plettenberg Bay, George and Knysna.
“I am a community member, that‘s why I decided to join Bambanani. I want to see to it that the community in Rheenendal (near Knysna) is safe,” Bambanani member Magda Williams said.
She said the 16 members in Rheenendal start patrolling the streets every Friday from 8 p.m. until the early hours of Saturday morning when all the shebeens and taverns close.
“We ride up and down on bicycles, and visit the many illegal shebeens and taverns. We monitor their operations. If we see children inside, we tell them to go home. If there is fighting or any illegal activities, we call the police,” she said, adding that they held regular meetings with tavern operators to discuss acceptable ways of doing business.
Bambanani members do all this armed only with a week‘s training in self-defence, reflector jackets and a first aid course they did in Cape Town.
Williams said they got involved with Bambanani because of a love for their community. “We put our lives on the line, and we don‘t even get paid,” she said, adding that they could do with more training, two-way radios, handcuffs and pepper spray.
Williams said the group‘s biggest problem was the lack of support from police.
“We want them to accompany us when we patrol. People get away with a lot of crime here because of the lack of police presence. They must just put a structure in place to work with the police.
Bambanani member Marius van Niekerk said Rheenendal was disadvantaged because it lacked a police station. He said the area, with a population of about 5 000, depended on the Knysna police station, which was about 25km away.
“We prevent a lot of murders and criminal activities here. There is so much crime here because people don‘t report it, and the reason for that is they don‘t have money to call the police or pay R17 to go open up a case in Knysna,” he said.
He said Bambanani worked closely with the Knysna Policing Forum and other Bambanani groups in townships such as White Location and Hornlee.
“If government can buy into the idea and have it organised properly, it can go a long way to addressing crime in the country,” he said.