Neighbourhood watches still in limbo

The Western Cape is the only province in South Africa which regulates its neighbourhood watches.

Neighbourhood watches are still not recognised as essential services under the level-4 Covid-19 lockdown, but many of their patrollers are eager to contribute.

On Thursday April 23, Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz asked Police Minister General Bheki Cele to let accredited watches patrol and help enforce the lockdown.

Mr Fritz argued the Western Cape was the only province that regulated its neighbourhood watches. There are 322 watches in the province with some 23 000 accredited patrollers. The MEC said the watches could promote physical distancing at shops, clinics and transport hubs and patrol school grounds. 

The watches’ visibility would prevent crime, he said. “During the lockdown, we’ve seen an increase in vandalism of schools and shop robberies, particularly in our most vulnerable communities,” he noted.

Earlier this month, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith invited accredited watches to submit the names of members prepared to work as disaster risk management volunteers. Last week, he said 48 watch members had so far taken up the invitation. They would not patrol neighbourhoods, he said, but would promote physical distancing, queue management and security at clinics, libraries and at schools. 

Goodwood Neighbourhood Watch chairwoman Leona van Wyk said she did not understand why watches had been made to stand down at a time when she felt they could be supporting the police. She believes it makes more sense for watch members to patrol in marked vehicles – wearing masks and gloves –  and alert police to incidents then it does for them to be helping out at clinics and shops.

Glenwood Neighbourhood Watch chairman James Ellis asked what medical treatment and assistance watch members could expect from the City should they catch the virus while working as disaster risk management volunteers. 

All volunteers should have a health screening before being deployed, he said. “One does not know what might happen years ahead, should these or other symptoms surface,” said Mr Ellis. 

Disaster risk management spokeswoman Charlotte Powell said the volunteers did not undergo a health screening but they were covered by medical insurance that allowed for private medical care.

Mr Fritz said that if volunteers went on patrol they would use cloth masks and hand sanitisers and practise physical distancing. Those who had had Covid-19 contact or were showing symptoms of the virus would not be allowed to patrol.

General Cele did not respond, by time of publication, to Northern News’ question asking whether he had acceded to Mr Fritz’s request to let neighbourhood watches patrol and help enforce lockdown.