Community members take the law into their own hands

Some of the shops that were damaged and looted during the protest. Picture by Norman Ngobeni

Five days after violent protests, Krugersdorp City Centre looks like a war zone. The situation is still tense and people are scared to talk to strangers especially those who have cameras hanging on their necks.

Krugersdorp, Gauteng, South Africa

On the 22nd of January 2018 as everyone was trying to settle in the new year, residents of Krugersdorp  on the west of Johannesburg brought their tiny city to a standstill as they raided and burnt houses belonging to suspected drug lords and pimps. In the process they swept sex workers off their streets. They were joined by people from the neighbouring townships of Kagiso and Munsieville claiming that for years drugs, prostitution and human trafficking has been the order of the day in their communities. Now they cannot stand this anymore. They vowed to continue the fight and restore the dignity of their once beautiful Mogale City.

“What is painful is how shameless these guys are. You would see in broad daylight money being exchanged for drugs and women scantily dressed parading the street. No parent would want their kids to grow in such an environment,” laments one of the parents. His property is in the middle of two taverns and he runs a daycare. “Imagine how will the children be developed under such a noise. I wonder how they got their license to operate. But, anyway we know that they work together with the police.”

His statement that police are conspiring with drug lords was supported by his neighbour, Lindiwe Mnguni: “When you see a police van around you don’t think they are patrolling but are coming to collect bribes from these guys.”

The local police station denied ever working with criminals and referred all queries to the head office. Both Kay Makhubela and Lungelo Dlamini’s phones who are police spokespersons, rang unanswered. “Honestly this place wouldn’t have been like this if the police were doing their job. They have completely neglected their responsibility,” said another resident who asked to remain anonymous. She recalled how she went into hiding after drug lords complained that she was talking too much because she was against what they were doing. “They threatened my life. I had to go and stay with my sister.”

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She did not see anything wrong with burning the shops and houses that belong to drug lords as this was the only language that authorities understand. “Although I don’t condone any acts of violence and intimidation, sometimes that is the only option you have when police have neglected their duties. Also remember in any march there’ll be some criminal opportunists who will try to disrupt a good cause.”

This was evident at nearby Sivewright Street, one of the alleged hotspots for drugs and prostitution where scavengers or the so-called ‘nyaope boys’ were already seen stripping the burnt buildings of metal to take and trade at a local scrap business.

Not far from Sivewright stands a Nigerian national, Emeka Anyaigbo. He looks sad and miserable as his shop was destroyed and everything was stolen including his money. He said he has been in South Africa for six years and ever since he has been making an honest living. “I run a salon, spaza shop and I’ve got a pool-table for some entertainment. I don’t sell drugs. They came looking for drugs and when they could not find any, they looted my shop,” he said disappointedly.

His claim fuels allegations that in the drug raid foreign nationals were targeted, especially Nigerians. One resident refuted this: “Not all Nigerians are drug dealers but all drug dealers are bad irrespective of their origin.”

One of the houses that was targeted by the protesters. Picture by Norman Ngobeni

In his usual tough-guy talk, Police minister Fikile Mbalula promised major changes within the leadership of the Krugersdorp police and that rogue elements in the police force will be harshly dealt with. The police minister promised to come back and continue with his operation until law and order is restored in the West Rand community.

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This news was received with loud cheers from the residents and their leaders. “We really appreciate this visit from the national minister. This shows how serious he takes the issue of drugs and prostitution in our communities. We welcome his decision that this operation will continue for three months and he’ll rope in Home Affairs to look into issues of immigration. There’ll also be an audit of all the buildings to check if they are hijacked or there’s a lease agreement,” said Patrick Lipudi, a community leader and the Councillor in the area.

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