Pretoria – Cross-border crime can have a varying impact – not only does it threaten relations between countries but can also fuel tensions in communities. Like any crime, the victims of cross-border crime are communities, who are left to live in fear and uncertainty.
A small rural Kwazulu-Natal town of Mhlabuyalingana has been a victim of this type of crime to a point that even President Jacob Zuma had to call for an intervention by national government. The community of Mhlabuyalingana is part of the five municipalities in the jurisdiction of uMkhanyakude District Municipality, situated in the northeastern part of Kwazulu-Natal, along the border with Mozambique to the north.
The municipality is generally rural, with the population being spread among the 17 municipal wards and four traditional council areas. It is generally a peaceful area, according to a local leader, and people pretty much know each other there. It’s a tightly connected community.
But the rise in crime, cross-border crime notably, had threatened to disturb this peace that the Mhlabuyalingana community had grown to know – and they set off to do something about it.
Vimbukhalo and the Kwamyanduya areas have been affected by a high rate of crime related to house robbery and assault with harsh bodily harm.
Hijacking a high concern
The issue of car hijacking is of high concern to the communities. This has caused communities to live in fear. The issue is that the cars that are hijacked have easy passage through the Mozambique border line. Hijacked cars are allegedly being spotted within Mozambique, however it is difficult to repossess/claim them back.
The issue of border crime, and crime in general was one of the concerns the residents raised with President Zuma when he spoke at the Manguzi sports ground last month during a Presidential Imbizo. Following the President’s visit and concerns raised with him, the community was galvanised to lead the fight against crime and this saw the birth of the Umhlabuyalingana Society Against Crime (USAC). And as President Jacob Zuma prepares to return to the area on Thursday for the commemoration of this year’s Freedom Day, USAC says there has been a noticeable drop in crime by at least 65 per cent.
“We are noticing changes. Police visibility has increased; there are more police vehicles on the streets and there is an increase in visibility by members of the South African Defence Force. We think the 65 per cent drop we have noticed can be attributed to these interventions,” USAC chairperson Juda Mthethwa told SAnews on Monday.
He said since President Zuma instructed government departments and the police to step up the fight against crime in Mhlabuyalingana, normalcy has returned and people were feeling a sense of safety again. The President has been running a national anti-crime campaign and has visited some communities around the country.
Crime drops by 65 per cent
“Since March when the President was here, up to this far, we can say without fear of contradiction that our assessment shows that crime has been reduced by 65 per cent,” said Mthethwa.
Police patrols and road blocks are now a common occurrence, he said. However, according to Mthethwa, the issue of stolen property, which he said had still not been recovered, was a major source of concern among the community.
“The cars that were stolen here are being seen in Mozambique. People who stole the cars have still not been apprehended and we want to appeal to authorities in both South Africa and Mozambique to do something about this.”
Mthethwa said the establishment of USAC was proving to be a success in the fight against crime. The community has been very important in the success of this organisation. We get information and we pass it on to the police who then act. It has been working very well and we are seeing results. We will be giving this feedback to the President when he comes.”
For its part, the government says the police in Kwazulu-Natal have deployed a special crime unit and other additional SAPS personnel to fight crime to increase SAPS visibility and enforce the law. The Provincial Department for Community Safety and Liaison, has set aside a budget of R50m for the New Jersey barrier as an attempt to minimise car hijacking and fight crime. Unannounced roadblocks have also been organized, which are welcomed by the public.
Impact of interventions being felt
The impact of SAPS intervention has been noticed as they are working well with the SANDF border patrols.
The SANDF has been beefed up with increased manpower working on the Mozambique border line and they even placed giant rocks along the border line as deterrents to car hijackers from gate 6 towards Ndumo, a distance of 65km. The SANDF has increased their visibility by patrolling the border line on a 24 hour basis. They have also created good working relations with the Mozambique force to assist in recovering cars hijacked in South Africa.
Crime was not the only issue that residents raised with President Zuma. Other pressing issues, including, electricity, housing and quality television signal, also topped the list of concerns.
ESKOM has built a substation in Ndumo and linked Nondabuya to Mashabane and Mseleni to ensure that there is enough capacity to serve parts of the Mseleni area. The substation is expected to supply electricity to Umhlabuyalingana but is not yet completed. Eskom is also implementing a massive project, installing a power station that will link with Ndumo and supply electricity to Manguzi and Mbazwana.
The Mbazwana housing project with 422 beneficiaries is also receiving electricity. The project started in March 2016 and was completed in October 2016. Mbazwana is a small town in ward three where Mseleni people access government services and a shopping complex.
On Thursday, President Zuma will lead the 23rd national Freedom Day celebrations in Manguzi, Mhlabuyalingana, where is he is expected to get feedback on the work that is being done there to root out crime, amongst others.