There are conflicting ways of seeing crime and fencing. For example, we can respond to crime through building walls. Or building bridges. How do we provide for our own security without violating others’ rights?
Let’s explore how a community starts gating itself.
I live in Onderpapegaaiberg, Stellenbosch. The ward commitee decided to fence in part of the suburb. I noticed this and raised questions. Because I don’t like the idea of being gated.
I shared my thoughts with 55 people on a mail list. This included the ward councillor. She invited me to attend a ward meeting. For which I prepared questions. The aim was to clarify how they decided on the Fence.
Fencing equal to gating?
The following is a report on what I learnt at the meeting. And my response. This is based on my notes. Three posts follow this one. They address the fence from different themes. The next post gives an objective picture of crime in our neighbourhood, in broader Stellenbosch and elsewhere. The fourth post reflects on mental states that drive different security responses. The fifth posts looks critically at the dominant security discourse in our town.
Ward committee’s ways of seeing – reasons for the Fence
The reason for the Fence appears to be Crime and Nature Conservation. (Crime includes an armed attack on the small shop, MOMS last year.) At least judging by what they said. They have a particular way of seeing crime in Onderpapegaaiberg. A commitee member sees the Papegaaiberg as a quick way to Kayamandi. They say the mountain is a Crime Gateway. 57 people ran up the mountain when confronted inside residents’ yards.
Some volunteer for the Onderpapegaaiberg Neighbourhood Watch. These members go out at night when criminals break into elderly households. They worry about their families’ security. They claim there are 90 000 people in Enkanini. And only a few thousand in Onderpapegaaiberg. (The figure for Enkanini is questionable. See Smit, Kovacic 2016, page 214, who estimate it at 8 000). The councillor pointed to the extent of recent violent crime in Enkanini and Kayamandi. Clearly their way of seeing is that the suburb is threatened. The security industry made inputs. Their advice was to fence in open borders.
There is apparently also dumping on the Papegaaiberg. They say people are misusing the service road. There is a negative impact on flora and fauna. There is illegal hunting on the Papegaaiberg. Their ways of seeing the Fence is that it will also protect Papegaaiberg.
Therefore, the gate on the main Papegaaiberg dirt track will be locked. People will detour 400 meters to work. This takes them to Bokmakierie Street. Their own employees understood the need. Therefore, their ways of seeing is that the Fence is compatible with others’ rights.
Ward committee’s ways of seeing the process
The first post in this series was about information that I sought. I had 19 questions. The committee members said the information I sought has been available for some time. People would know about it if they attended public meetings. But many people do not attend public meetings. They said there have also been pamphlets in post boxes explaining the plan to erect the fence. Besides, there is an Onderpapegaaiberg information site. And also an Onderpapegaaiberg WhatsApp Group. This included a fence discussion group, in which 76 people participated. There was time to make inputs. But it’s too late to stop the Fence now. It’s water under the bridge.
We spoke about the procedure followed. They referred to the integrated development plan (IDP) and procurement processes, and Municipal legislation. I also asked whether they supported stop-and-frisk. This is a police strategy for apprehending and searching suspicious people. There needs to be probable cause, meaning substantive reason, for suspicion. Mayor Rudi Giuliani applied it in New York in the 1980s. It became controversial when police apprehended people without probable cause.
The committee said it always followed the regulated protocol. They proposed this Fence first at a local meeting. It then went to a public meeting. This was through the IDP process. From start of the idea to construction took 18 months.
Value for money
An original fence bordered the mountain. Thieves stole this fence. Along with two kilometers of Middlevlei Farm fencing. So fences are vulnerable to theft. You need a quality product to mitigate this risk. They sourced a good product at value for money.
Security versus Civil Rights?
The procurement process followed the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) regulations. The Fence costs about R1000 per square meter.
Security, others’ rights – stop-and-frisk
A committee member referred to taking people off the street. He weighed up the civil rights of individuals against security requirements. In other words balancing our own security against others’ rights. He implied that the security situation required that.
Another person said that they all supported integration. He claimed Onderpapegaaiberg as a diverse Stellenbosch suburb. He said they regarded themselves as South Africans, indeed Africans. They don’t want to disturb relationships with Enkanini and Kayamandi.
My ways of seeing prioritising security, others’ rights
The meeting was cordial. I listened to them. They heard me. I said that it was important for people to talk. Especially if they hold conflicting viewpoints. And for citizens to ask questions. This is essential for local democracy. Stellenbosch Transparency tries to play this role.
Ways of seeing underdevelopment driving crime
I said nobody wants crime in this area. Also our household had suffered a break in. I understood all our fears. (In fact, I share the fears of your average Onderpapegaaiberg resident). We appreciated what they were trying to do. But I was looking at the bigger political economy. (I struggle with feelings that often conflict with my mental understanding). I said overemphasis on privatisation in our society exacerbates poverty. Poverty is the breeding ground of anti-social behaviour. Or at least a contributing factor to crime. The question is how do we respond to crime? Is our response based only on defending our security? Or do we also remain sensitive to ‘other’ peoples’ civil rights? Can we link security with a broader development approach that also addresses crime? This is what I mean by ensuring our own security and others’ rights.
We can respond to crime by building walls. Or we can build bridges to the communities of Kayamandi and Enkanini. Our country negotiated a political settlement in 1994. Where would we be if leaders then decided to fight it out? I explained that Vuya Endaweni (an NGO) tried to build bridges. Rather than joining the War on Crime. Vuya followed the principle of prioritising our own security and others’ rights simultaneously.
Ways of seeing Papegaaiberg as developmental lever
Vuya had members from Onderpapegaaiberg and Enkanini and Kayamandi. We submitted a proposal to the Municipality . This was to manage the Papegaaiberg nature reserve. People from Enkanini and Kayamandi would work on the mountain. Doing conservation work. Leading tours. And teaching youngsters from Enkanini about environmental conservation. We proposed an environmental educational centre on the mountain. This presence would act as surveillance of the mountain. And identify and push against criminal elements. We had a practical proposal for ensuring our own security and others’ rights. Including their socio-economic rights (enshrined in our constitution).
Our proposal went nowhere. The Municipality did not engage us about it. This was our experience in our other projects in Enkanini. Like our environmental education centre and creche. And also our second hand shop in the Kayamandi Tourism Corridor.
Environmental Education Centre in Enkanini, Stellenbosch
Ways of seeing relationships
One of the committee members was keen to see this proposal. I said that I would provide it via the councillor. I would appreciate any response. They said people like me should get involved with them. They spoke of a partnership. Mrs Serdyn mentioned an NGO collective. This is looking at ways of avoiding duplication of voluntary work. One member said we needed to desist from writing letters to the press. These could give a negative impression.
I explained that I held a different viewpoint. My approach is to critique the strategy of privatisation and outsourcing developmental work to NGOs. Because this policy undermines our own security and others’ rights. The State needs to provide more welfare funds. It needs to be hands-on in social work and early childhood education. The Municipality should do more to help local economic development for poorer households. We should be free to criticise others’ approaches. As long as we respect each other’s persons. And refrain from character assassination. I sensed acceptance of my viewpoint. There was mutual appreciation of the meeting and conversation.
In a third post in this series I share the research that I have done on crime in our suburb, Greater Stellenbosch and elsewhere. Crime upsets all of us. Understandably. We also need to look at crime statistics and trends in order to balance our subjective feelings with objective facts