The community that broke the shackles of fear

Vaalies don't have to travel to Namakwaland to see a myriad of flowers in bloom. You can just visit Flora Gardens, which boasts lovely gardens, safe sidewalks and roads without potholes. Here Stephnee Jansen and her dog Jessie enjoy the peaceful scene in Anemone Street.

Niel Lambrechts

VANDERBIJLPARK. – In August 2014 the small community of Flora Gardens, a residential area on the outskirts of Vanderbijlpark, was hit and severely traumatised by “Hurricane Crime.”

Previously known as a beautiful, tranquil, almost sleepy suburb, a tsunami of criminal activities, some very violent, turned this area into one where residents lived in terror, terrified to go to work or even to return home.

A suffocating cloud of fear was choking the life out of a once lively, serene place, with twelve serious crimes in less than two weeks, such as hijack, armed robbery and burglary, where in some cases residents were severely assaulted. A small group of concerned residents got together to try to find a solution.

The human mind resorts to two lines of action in dangerous situations – fight or flee. Fleeing was no option for home owners since estate agents avoided Flora Gardens like the plague, steering prospective buyers away from a suburb where even domestic workers, some with long service records, were actively seeking employment elsewhere.

A number of assumptions were accepted as baselines by the group: It was absurd to expect the SAPS, even if the will was there, to stop the crime wave. They simply do not have the resources needed anymore, and the same applies to Emfuleni Local Municipality. Whatever needed to be done, would have to come on a voluntary basis from the Flora Gardens community itself.

A neighbourhood watch was established, where a few volunteers in private cars, using hazard lights for identification, armed with spotlights and two-way radios, started patrolling the streets in shifts.

A few WhatsApp groups were started, two exclusively for neighbourhood watch purposes, and one as a combination of social communication channel and also for those without radios, to report suspicious vehicles, pedestrians, situations, or to shout for help.

An election was held and an executive Committee, guided by a solid constitution, was elected to provide structure and direction. Flora Gardens Home Owners Alliance was registered as a non-profit organisation with its own bank account, properly audited.

An application for a controlled entrance was painstakingly prepared and submitted. A group of volunteers called street representatives (street reps) was mobilised to represent every household in Flora Gardens. They are the custodians of their streets or complexes and they gather names, contact details of residents for the central data base, welcome newcomers and monitor and report problems such as faulty street lights, water leaks and potholes. They also encourage residents to support the initiative by joining the neighbourhood watch, making a monthly financial contribution, or both.

Residents have formed new friendships and ties because of closer contact via neighbourhood watch activities, radio contact and WhatsApp groups, where race or social status does not count, where all share a common goal… to make Flora Gardens a safe, friendly, well-kept haven for all who live there. The Flora Gardens U-turn is used far and wide as a case study. Communities from as far as Pretoria, Witbank, Nigel, Potchefstroom visit the neighbourhood in increasing numbers for advice and help.

The recipe is quite simple: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee…. and do not wait for the SAPS or local authorities to solve your problems. Roll up your sleeves, set goals, work as a team and claim back what is rightfully yours. You will still have minor incidents here and there, but as our support grows, even those will disappear.

* Niel Lambrechts is the Chief Street Representative and spokesperson for the Flora Gardens Home Owners Alliance Exco.

Flora Gardens’ “potholes brigade”, Terrence Hills and Roelf Harmse.

Latest News


Carletonville HeraldParys GazettePotchefstroom HeraldVaal Weekblad