Meet the young woman lobbying for a second police station in SA’s murder capital, Nyanga

Sabelo Mkhabela

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“I’m not an activist,” says the soft-spoken Nelisa Ngqulana, as she sits on the couch of her living room in Fish Hoek. “I think of it as, if there’s an issue, I respond as an active citizen.” She may not consider herself an activist but her petition for a second police station in South Africa’s […]

IMG_3301“I’m not an activist,” says the soft-spoken Nelisa Ngqulana, as she sits on the couch of her living room in Fish Hoek. “I think of it as, if there’s an issue, I respond as an active citizen.”

She may not consider herself an activist but her petition for a second police station in South Africa’s murder capital, Nyanga in Cape Town, has gotten some media attention. She has even engaged Helen Zille and Patricia De Lille on Twitter about the issue.

What sparked the idea for the petition

Nelisa works as a communications strategist for the youth-oriented organisation, ACTIVATE!. “ACTIVATE! did a piece looking at the crime stats that came out in September 2016,” she says. “The one thing that came out was that Nyanga was the murder capital, which it has been for the last five years.”

Having witnessed someone being shot outside her father’s home in Nyanga, she understands the story behind the stats. But the stats go deeper. Seven out of the 10 crime hotspots in South Africa are in townships in Cape Town, with Nyanga topping the list. “So for me it was concerning on a personal level,” says Nelisa. Nyanga, which has a population of 57, 996 according to the 2011 Census, has one police station. It also services surrounding areas like Samora Machel, Phillipi and Old Cross Roads.

The City and the provincial government can do better

Neliswa says she knows The City of Cape Town has capacity to fight crime in Nyanga. Two years ago, the city deployed an army and put together a unit to fight gang violence in Manenberg, which was higher than Nyanga on the list of crime hotspots.

“That worked. Those communities aren’t on that list anymore,” Neliswa says. “So my questions to Patricia De Lille were, what’s the plan around that? And her response was that a police station is not a competency of The City, and their resources are limited when it comes to policing. Basically she was just saying this is an SAPS thing.”
“Fine,” she continues, “the state has its own responsibility but what is the provincial government doing about it? They also have a mandate for community safety. The petition was just an emotional reaction,” she says. “I knew of It took me two minutes to set up the petition.”

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She is struggling to get community engagement

Although the petition has had some media coverage from community and mainstream media, it has not helped get the 5000 signatures she was gunning for. She says she is struggling to get community engagement, and  mentions an example of an event at which she, a representative from the police ombudsman and Nyanga Cluster Commander Major General Moses Memela were invited to take questions from the community, where the attendance was poor.

The police station is just one part of the solution

Nelisa feels one of the reasons The City of Cape Town hasn’t treated the issue with urgency is politically motivated. “SAPS is a national competency, which is the ANC government. While provincial is the DA government, and the seven areas which are on the list, are black communities, which are mostly ANC wards. So politically, there’s no motivation for The City to have to do that,” she says. “The police station was just one part of the solution, and I thought it would be the easiest out of the whole thing. But it wasn’t.”

She’s equally opinionated about President Jacob Zuma’s surprise visit to the Nyanga Police Station just after this year’s SONA. According to the Cape Argus, Zuma said one of the major causes of crime in the area was druglords. Memela informed the president of the need for a second police station in the area, and that the land they had an eye on had been earmarked for a hospital. “We need clinics, that’s a fact… but we also need police stations. I think it’s a question of priority, so to speak,” said the president.

Nelisa says the president’s response was disappointing and irresponsible. “He didn’t speak to the community and the fact he was in the murder capital. But unfortunately, I wasn’t there. What was problematic for me was the fact that he mostly spoke of the fact that courts are lenient, and criminals get out early. Which didn’t open a conversation, and ignores the glaring issues, and transfers the blame to the courts.”

She hopes to get more community engagement

Nelisa is currently working with an NGO called Africa Unite and Project Demo, who have been doing a lot of work in Nyanga, to try and find out ways to carry on with the campaign.

What she learned from working with Africa Unite was that the investigation unit of the Nyanga police station is in Mitchells Plein. Only the constables are at the station.

But there is some hope, however little. Two months after the statistics were released, a satellite police station was erected in the neighbouring Browns Farm. “That may seem like something,” she says, “but it’s not much because a satellite police station doesn’t do investigations, it’s very limited in capacity as well. All they can do is register cases, stamp things, and all the investigations still go to the actual police station.”

The deputy minister of police, Maggie Sotyu, said it was a 5-year process to create a police station, and it’s not that simple, and there’s more than one department involved.

Nelisa says she plans on getting more residents involved with the campaign. “I don’t want to be the poster person for a police station in an area that I don’t even live in. Something about that doesn’t seem right to me.”

Sign the petition here

Holding image by Ignatius Mokone

Project Demo finds the voices of young people in South Africa, amplifies their stories and turns their cause for change into a reality. Tell them your issue. They’ll take it on and campaign with you.