[This article originally appeared in Afrikaans at http://rapport.co.za/Weekliks/Nuus/Wanneer-vrees-jou-wakker-hou-20140201.]
As is the case in all rural communities throughout the country, the people of Wallmannstal, just to the north of Pretoria, live in fear. And the police are doing nothing, writes Yolanda Barnard.
Tarien Cooks is tired.
“We are staying awake at night.
“We do not sleep. We keep on waiting for a radio message to inform us that there has been another attack.”
We meet at the nursery of the famous rose cultivator Ludwig Taschner. It is scorching hot, yet the red roses are in full bloom and the air smells sweet – a safe oasis against the violence that has been afflicting Wallmannstal the past few years
Tarien is accompanied by Ian Cameron, head of AfriForum’s Community Safety Forum, and Johan Lucas, member of Wallmannstal’s Community Policing Forum (CPF).
People say that the soil here to the north of the Magaliesberg mountain range is not red by chance. It is blood ground. Land of sorrow. And as the number of robberies and victims of attacks rise ever higher, the number of abandoned smallholdings also increase by the day. The people are scared, too scared to stay on in their homes.
Lucas leans against a pillar, his cellular phone clutched in his hand. It rings and he answers. He is ashen-faced when he eventually rings off.
“Another murder at Kameeldrift,” he says. “A man was shot dead at his smallholding last night.”
In Wallmannstal, only a few kilometres to the north of Kameeldrift, they have been lucky thus far.
“Nobody has been killed here yet. Not yet, but we are waiting.”
It only is a question of time.
Lucas casts a look at Cooks. It is a moment of solemn silence.
“I only wish the police would do their work. The Hammanskraal police station do not want to cooperate. We know what the gang who are harassing us, look like. We are able to compile identikits, but the police have not even done that yet.”
The result is that the residents are now patrolling Wallmannstal themselves.
Every night they drive kilometres and yet more kilometres. Using their own fuel. Own vehicles. Own manpower.
Cooks: “We held a community meeting last week. The residents are bitter and scared.
“The women said they were being threatened with rape.
“350 Members of the community attended the meeting.”
Lucas: “One old gentleman sent me a text message instructing us to give them hell.”
The people that the old gent would like to beat up, are known as Tall and Short. These nicknames were given by the residents to the two fearless criminals who terrorise them; they have already beaten two residents so badly that they ended up in hospital. Recently they also held a R5 assault rifle to the head of a four-year-old boy.
The latest spate of attacks started on New Year’s Eve.
Wallmannstal’s residents all make a living from small-scale farming. Few have incomes that allow them to buy luxuries like flat-screen televisions. In fact, many of the people who live here, find it hard to make ends meet. They do not drive expensive German sedans or 4x4s. They do not have smartphones.
This does not deter the gang however. Tall and Short take whatever they can lay their hands on.
After New Year’s Eve, silence reigned for a day or two, and they do not “work” on Sundays.
“They probably consider it to be the Sabbath of the Lord,“ Lucas says wryly.
On the 7th of January they attacked once more. In Blesbok-, Springbok and Waterbok Streets where the grass is growing high, providing cover for criminals.
“You cannot chop down the marula tree,” Cooks scolds someone by cellular phone.
“A guy has just chopped down an endangered tree believing the criminals to be hiding there.”
Meanwhile we have left the cool oasis of Ludwig’s Roses and are driving around in the area
We stop at the smallholding of Cemal Asti (56). There are large implements and tools all over the yard.
A crooked garden gate and two drooling, tail-wagging dogs are the sum total of Asti’s safety measures.
He was the first victim of the robbers. They attacked him with a bolt iron. On the porch, that surrounds the whole house, he stands talking to us bare-chested, his arm still in plaster. He still has stitches in his scalp and the bruises, cuts and scratch marks all over his body bear silent witness to his nightmare experience.
“Lots of blood. There was lots of blood,” he says.
He was fortunate; the Angel of Death passed him by, but only just so.
“It was about half past two,” he recounts. “I heard someone at the gate. I yelled: ‘What do you want?’
“Next thing they were on me. All over me, a tall one and a short one. Fortunately my wife locked the door. They could not get into the house.”
And the dogs?
“Oh, they are loving animals.
“They did not bite anyone.”
At last the attackers escaped without taking anything.
Asti spent almost a week in hospital.
“South Africa has been good to us,” says this man born in Turkey, but he no longer wants to stay on in the country.
He and his wife will emigrate.
To Australia, he thinks.
En route to the next smallholding, Lucas says: “The tall one and the short one are believed to have a third accomplice. Some of the victims are able to compile an identikit, but the police have never asked them to. I believe the locals know them, but are too scared to talk. They are being threatened.”
The night after the attack on Asti, Tall and Short broke into the home of Corné Venter and his family.
When Venter awoke, the two were standing next to his bed, he says.
While the men were in the room, Corne’s four-year-old son walked in, still half-asleep.
The robbers grabbed the child, held a rifle to his head and threatened to shoot him unless his parents cooperated.
Tall and Short eventually got away with laptops, cellular phones and money, but not before firing a random shot in the house.
“We want to sell the smallholding,” Venter says. “We no longer sleep there at night.”
On the same day, just an hour later, Tall and Short also paid a visit to Belinda Jacobs and her 14-year-old son.
Lucas’ property borders on hers. “Belinda ran in her pyjamas through the veld.
“She ran 500 metres barefoot through the long grass. They had also been fired on. Fortunately no-one had been killed.”
Lucas has been living in Wallmannstal for some years. He farms with birds and horses.
“I won’t leave, man.
“To hell with them. It is my land.
“Our land. Our lives.
“And meanwhile I will do everything I can to protect my community and my family.”
Even take up a gun?
“We cannot do that, the police will arrest us if we do. Then you have years of sh*t ahead of you.”
Peet Dorfling, member of the CPF and the community’s barefoot Afrikaans tracker, bluntly says: “I have not been attacked yet, but if someone enters my property, I will shoot. And shoot to kill.”
Dorfling’s eyes are bloodshot. He gets little sleep lately.
He is the community’s best tracker and has already followed the gang’s tracks right up to the old road to Warmbad, where he lost them.
“It will be so much easier if the police were to cooperate with us,” Dorfling says.
His feet are brown and bare. Well-suited to dirt roads.
“We have even taken photographs of the tracks. We are doing the police’s work for them.”
Cameron says AfriForum will submit complaints re the lack of service delivery by the Hammanskraal police station to the National Commissioner of Police.
They are of the opinion that all police members serving there should be replaced.
“We will also ask for an opportunity to meet the police together with the community, in order to find solutions for all of their frustrations and problems.”
They also intend to organise a peaceful protest march to the police station.
Cooks says a suspect was indeed arrested almost a week ago, but he could not be linked to the attacks.
On two occasions members of the community have already obtained a light plane in an effort to find the suspects. Both times the police of Hammanskraal were nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile the people of Wallmannstal sleep restlessly. Or not at all.
They will neither rest tonight, nor tomorrow night. Nor are they likely to, until Tall and Short are behind bars.
*** At the time of publication, neither the Hammanskraal police station, nor the provincial police had responded to enquiries.
57 700 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.4% y/y in April 2019 (CPI) & +6.5 y/y in April 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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