Neighbourhood watch and farm watch groups who have been “chomping at the bit” to get back to work can now do so, after Level 3 lockdown restrictions saw the bans placed on them lifted.
The groups were deeply aggrieved when it was announced during Levels 4 and 5 that they would have to down tools as they were not contracted by the Disaster Management Act to enforce law and order in their communities, and launched several bids most notably supported by the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) to have the band lifted, to no avail.
Back to work
There are still some caveats that will dictate the way in which Neighbourhood watch and farm watch groups can operate in their communities under Level 3 guidelines, but they have essentially been given the green-light to get back to work.
“The Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz, welcomes feedback received from the National Secretary of Police that Neighbourhood Watches (NHW) may now operate under Alert Level 3,” the Western Cape Community Safety cluster said in a statement on Monday 1 June.
“During a meeting today between officials of the Department of Community Safety (DoCS) and the National Secretary of Police, it was confirmed that the restrictions placed on NHWs have been lifted under Alert Level 3.”
They said that the groups would be put to work in COVID-19 hotspots to assist with efforts to stem the spread of the virus there.
“Within the targeted COVID-19 hotspot areas, NHWs will be deployed to assist in:
- • Promoting adherence to regulations in terms of social distancing at places of gathering and queueing;
- • Sharing communications as prescribed by DoCS, acting as a nodal point of information for DoCS; and
- • Patrol in their community.
The Department of Community Safety will ensure that measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst NHW members, including:
- • The provision of cloth masks and hand sanitisers when operating;
- • Setting the number of those who are permitted to operate and encouraging self-distancing between volunteers; and
- • Ensuring that those who show symptoms or who have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 are not permitted to operate. They should quarantine at home for 14 days, and be guided by advice of our dedicated COVID-19 Provincial Hotline.
Community Safety Minister in the Western Cape, Albert Fritz, said that the move would go a long way to enforcing law and order in communities across the country.
“The presence of NHWs will serve to prevent crime. During the lockdown, we have seen an increase in vandalism of schools and shop robberies, in rural and urban communities alike. I have heard the call of the many NHWs and Community Police Forums (CPFs) who have raised their hands and offered their support during this difficult period and am pleased to announce that NHW may now operate.”
He added that now was the right time to investigate a way in which to resume work in Community Policing Forums (CPFs), which have disbanded during the lockdown too.
“As it stands, Community Policing Forums (CPFs) which have not yet held their electoral AGMs have been dissolved by the SAPS. My Department will engage with the Provincial Commissioner to expedite the outstanding elections.”
Neighbourhood, Farm Watch groups ‘chomping at the bit’
One group that was prevented from working during the initial lockdown stages was the Drakensberg Farm Watch, which has at its disposal monitoring resources as well as a fully fledged fire department and medical team.
Founder Daan van Leeuwen Boomkamp told The South African that he was delighted to learn that he and his team could get back to work.
“If the can operate it is great news, they have an important role to play in community policing.”
“We were very upset that we had to cease our operations because we are a full blown entity registered as a non-profit company. It was legally not correct and they never got back to us which was incredibly frustrating”.”
He said that the laws had prevented the from assisting in a nearby shack fire in Chicago, and this had led to the death of several people.
“Last week there was a massive fire in Paarl and six people died. We were told by police they will arrest us if we go there.”
He added that he and his team were ready to get out and contribute to crime fighting efforts right away.
“We will 100% get out and resume our community service. We serve our clients and on top of that we serve the greater public.”
The City of Cape Town’s Mayco Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith, said that the move was incredibly positive.
“Now this almost 50 000 strong force for good can start protecting their communities again. They have been chomping at the bit for weeks.”