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Freedom Day dawns in Philippi, Cape Town, with daily gunshots, murders, robberies, carjackings and intimidation of City of Cape Town contract workers.

Criminals reign in one of Cape Town’s poorest suburbs. Refuse collectors have withdrawn from Philippi East after a worker was shot dead on Tuesday while working. The library in Brown’s Farm has been closed since staff were robbed of cellphones.

In nearby Samora Machel informal settlement, rubbish has not been collected for weeks because employees of cleaning company Wastemart, contracted to the City of Cape Town, are afraid of entering the township. Two weeks ago Wastemart employees were intimidated and threatened, evidently by a syndicate extorting protection money from government contractors.

Questions were sent to Wastemart, but there was no reply.

After the Wastemart workers were threatened, the ward councillor, community leaders, police and metro law enforcement officials met. Arrangements were made for contractors’ vehicles to be escorted by law enforcement officers on refuse collection day, said mayoral committee member for urban waste management Grant Twigg.

“However due to limited policing resources it will not be possible to sustain this in perpetuity,” said Twigg.

Then this week thugs struck again at employees of a cleaning company; one worker was shot dead in Philippi East and the killers fled the scene, according to witnesses.

Police spokesperson FC van Wyk said the murdered man was 48 years old. “According to reports the victim and his colleagues entered the area to empty dustbins. While they worked at the front of the truck and he at the back they heard two shots being fired. On inspection they found the deceased lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to his head.”

No-one has been arrested and the investigation is in progress, Van Wyk said.

After the shooting, rubbish removal and other city services in Philippi East, Brown’s Farm and Samora Machel were immediately halted and workers congregated in a safe area at the Philippi East police station.

Employees of other companies also stopped collecting rubbish because they were told to stop work until their bosses pay extortion money.

City of Cape Town’s stormwater drain staff have halted their service.

Rubbish is blocking drains and Oliver Tambo Drive in Samora Machel is full of garbage. Plastic items, cardboard, rotten food, nappies, shoes, and bits of old electric appliances litter the streets.

“We are forced to burn rubbish,” said resident Nkosiyamntu Gcotyiwe. With regard to the extortion fee, Gcotyiwe said most, if not all, businesses in and around Samora Machel were paying the extortion fee. If they did not, he said, they were intimidated.

“Many people have resorted to moving to other areas because they no longer felt safe around here. We don’t blame the workers because they are scared for their lives, but the city needs to up its game and deliver services. We can’t continue living in this filth. We have had enough,” said Gcotyiwe.

Ward councillor Lungisa Somdaka confirmed that city workers and contractors stopped operating because of threats from criminals. Questions sent to the City of Cape Town were not answered by the time of publication.

Philippi, with a population of more than 190,000 people in 2011, is one of Cape Town’s poorest areas, with a 38% unemployment rate according to that year’s census. Fewer than half the households were in formal housing and 78% earned R3,200 or less a month. One third did not have direct access to piped water and 23% did not have access to flush toilets.

The Western Cape government’s most recent crime report notes that 183 murders were recorded at Philippi East police station, among the highest in the province.

Brown’s Farm library has been closed for nearly a month after criminals with guns and knives robbed four staff members of cellphones on March 29. About 20 users were in the library at the time, but they were not robbed, according to City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross.

Job seekers, pupils and students now have no computer access to complete  applications or assignments. The nearest library is in Crossroads, 2km away.

The gunmen posed as library users to gain entry. This is not the first time the library has been closed by criminals. It was robbed in August last year.

Some of robbers in the area are teenagers as young as 13. They are often known to the community, but people are scared to work with the police, fearing they may be killed.

Residents are afraid to speak out publicly about crime.

In Philippi, you leave your house at your own risk. Motorists are a target, especially visitors. Gunshots are an everyday occurrence.

Weekends, from Friday to Monday morning, are especially scary, as liquor is a major contributor to crime. Shebeens stay open until early hours of the morning and often sell to underage children.

“There is unemployment, a high number of school dropouts, drugs and gangsterism and few recreational facilities, let alone role models, for children. This is not a place to raise your children,” said a resident.

“Another problem is inadequate street lighting and informal settlements that the police cannot access because there are no roads.”

Residents have started neighbourhood watches. Members stand at crime hotspots, but as they are armed only with sticks there is little they can do against criminals with guns. As a result some people take the law into their own hands by assaulting or even killing people suspected of wrongdoing.


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