KDF says extortion won’t be tolerated in Khayelitsha

Community members came in droves to the prayer meeting that was held at the Khayelitsha Stadium on Sunday. Photo by Lilita Gcwabe

The KDF had harsh words for those who are involved in extortion of small businesses, informal traders and residents in Khayelitsha.

In a bid to strengthen their swords of faith in the fight against extortion rackets run by gangs in the township, the Khayelitsha Development Forum called a community prayer service at the Khayelitsha Rugby Stadium on Sunday morning.

Religious leaders from different Christian denominations were invited to lead the prayer service as small business owners, landlords and informal traders suffer a plague of criminal gangs who give them an ultimatum to either pay up to half of their income to the gang or risk being robbed and harmed.

“As Khayelitsha, we must reject the extortion of people’s hard earned money, we must reject the extortion of informal traders, we must reject the extortion of hair salons who operate from containers, we must reject the extortion of flat owners. Enough is enough!” said Ndithini Tyhido, chairperson of the KDF. 

Tyhido admitted that although they were aware of criminals extorting spaza shop keepers who are commonly Somalian-born Africans or from another African country, the KDF’s silence on the matter before now should not indicate any support for the crime. “Entering one’s home and telling them to pay for their own TV is worse, Tyhido exclaimed, noting that conditions in the township increased opportunities for crime. “In places like Site C and Ndlovini, there are no street lights and access roads for police vans. People can get attacked many times because there is no police presence there.”

An informal trader (35) who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she was scared to continue with her business of selling braaied meat because of the gang activity. “Because I work alone, I feel more vulnerable to being attacked and threatened for protection fees. I’m scared because the money I make here is what I live by and I won’t be able to afford to take care of my children and pay fees, I’ll have to choose one,” she said.

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Since reports that homes in Site C are being targeted and that residents are told to produce their payslips to determine the fee that they should pay for the protection of their cars and items of furniture, the pall of fear in the hearts of community members has grown thick and the need to act and restore hope has become more urgent.

Sikhona Sokudela (32), who is a member of the Christ Embassy church and resident in Makhaza, said that she feels like her community is being held hostage by the increasing incidents of crime and robbery. “We are not able to live comfortably in our homes and succeed in our businesses unless we are paying for our protection… and the problem with police officers is that we don’t see them taking steps in solving cases that we open. Some are being paid off by gangsters and others are scared to confront the criminals,” she said. Sokudela believes that aside from continuously praying, one of the best solutions to these crimes is to deploy the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to protect them as a community.

Deputy Minister of State Security, Zizi Kodwa, attended the meeting and responded with a great sense of familiarity with the living conditions: “There were also incidents like these when I was growing up here, but in the past they would end in a day or week. This has gone on for too long. The tsotsis need to know that we are tired. As a community, as government, we are tired and the police force members who are involved should be warned,” he said.

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Kodwa said community mobilisation is the most important weapon against gangs and that community members should work hand in hand with the South African Police Service to tackle the problem, “I don’t think we have reached the level of crime that is out of control enough for the army to be brought back but we must increase police visibility and there must be action. As government, we will continuously check the capacity of different police stations in Khayelitsha to deal with the level of crime and increasing the numbers is an issue that government will always consider,” said Kodwa. 

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