Old foes in Soweto unite to fight crime

SHANTY-DWELLERS lined the road, waving, smiling, gawping, as if the circus had come to town. Had elephants come marching down the road pursued by clowns and trapeze artists, the barefoot children, the pregnant women, the old men in trilby hats would have been no less delighted or amazed. What the poorer inhabitants of Diepkloof, in Soweto, were witnessing for the first time in South African history was a procession of policemen and ordinary black residents united by a common cause.

Cheering youths, African National Congress supporters, were piled high on a convoy of yellow armoured vehicles, the same 'casspirs' that until a few months ago the same 'comrades' would stone on sight. They shook hands, enjoying the pointed symbolism, with the same policemen who would fire tear gas at them, chase them down dusty alleys and pack them off into the police cells.

Bongane, who is unemployed, explained. 'We're protesting against the criminals. We want to stop crime in our area. We want to stop the criminals killing our policemen because they are here to defend us.' Since the end of the struggle for liberation, the battle against crime has surfaced as Priority Number One in Soweto. The official figures show that more than 50 murders are committed a day in South Africa, mostly in the black townships. Among the victims since the beginning of this year have been 160 policemen. The statistics are not startlingly new. What is new since the April elections is the perception, prompted by President Nelson Mandela, that the community and the police should work together, not against each other.

The Diepkloof march stopped outside the local civic hall where a portly white policeman grabbed a loudspeaker and addressed the crowd. Parked behind him a was a white hearse draped with a banner carrying the remarkably altruistic message: 'Avalon cemetery is full. Stop the killings]' The policeman, pale in a sea of black faces, said: 'We will be your friends] We invite all of you to be our friends so we can have a future together]'

The crowd cheered when a local community leader, took up the cry. 'We want the criminals out of our township] Beware] We're coming after you, the people and the police together] Beware]' The Minister of Safety and Security, Sydney Mufamadi, stood alongside the white policeman, earnestly conversing, until his turn came to speak and he stressed the need for the community to help the police solve crime.

The festivities ended with 40 small children singing in praise of the police and holding pink and blue posters with messages such as: 'Stop killing us', 'Why use AK47s?' and 'Thugs: stop shooting police. They are our friends.'

Major Francois Vercueil was spending his happiest day since his appointment 19 months ago, after a placid 25 years down in the Cape, to one of the hottest jobs in the South African police force. He was so relaxed he had even brought along his twin 15-year-old daughters, Melissa and Maritza, on the first visit of their lives to a black township. ('Hey, it's not so weird,' Melissa observed.)

'Listen to how the people cheered me,' Major Vercueil said. 'This morning I feel very good. Things have changed totally since the election. Six months ago it was so different. People wouldn't talk to the police. They were afraid of the police. We were the enemy. Now people drop into my office and we have coffee and a chat.'

The man who had addressed the crowd after the major was Isaac Mogase, president of the Soweto Civic Association. 'I always saw the police as the enforcers and defenders of the apartheid laws. I myself was in detention for three years, from 1986 to 1989. We used to say 'police out of the townships' but now it's the criminals we want out. It is the most important thing for the people, ending crime, and we are going to hold events like this one here all over Soweto.'

Mr Mufamadi, an ANC minister in the government of national unity who knows a thing or two about police detention, noted that the success of his police force would depend to a great degree on the success of the government's economic strategy, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). 'If you can't create jobs people will become desperate and they will go out and commit crimes. But at the same time, and this is what the people are saying, it is no use trying to build a new society in a crime-ridden environment.'

Richard Mokwena, a young man in a 'Together against crime' T-shirt, expanded on the minister's theme. 'Fighting crime is the most important thing for us. I will tell you why. Even if you have a perfect education system, the hooligan and criminal element will continue to disrupt classes. If you try and build houses, the criminals will steal the materials. When the electricity workers come, we have to give them protection otherwise the criminals steal their vehicles. Last week two Telkom technicians were shot dead with AK-47s.'

Mr Mokwena was eager, however, to dispel the notion conveyed by the day's proceedings that all was sweetness and light. 'You can't change everything overnight. Some white cops are still going around at night with unlicensed vehicles shooting people and asking questions later. Some cops are corrupt and they work with the criminals. And generally, many of the white policemen are insensitive to our problems.'

The crowd was dispersing and Major Vercueil walked towards one of the casspirs waving goodbye. The children waved back. Mr Mokwena smiled. 'To summarise, there are still problems but we are living harmoniously with the police. Like everything else in South Africa, you can't have miracles overnight but we're moving in the right direction. Three months will not solve everything but lots has changed. Lots.'

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial