Neighbourhood Watch's operations cause racial storm

23 Sep 2013 09:20
By Charles Tjatindi
GOBABIS, 23 SEP (NAMPA) - A silent but potentially explosive racial storm is brewing in Gobabis over the alleged unruly conduct of the Gobabis Neighbourhood Watch - a volunteer group that patrols the streets of the town’s Central Business District (CBD) to prevent crime.
Nampa has learnt that residents here are contemplating taking the Neighbourhood Watch on by any means necessary over alleged reports of harassment at the hands of the organisation which is said to be dominated by white Gobabis residents.
To many of them, the conduct of the Gobabis Neighbourhood Watch is reminiscent of pre-Independence Namibia, which involved the enforcement of laws requiring Namibians to obtain a “pass” to travel from one point to another inside town.
An incident last Monday, in which members of the Neighbourhood Watch stopped two cars at a fuelling station and allegedly rudely demanded to know why they were “awake at this time of the night,” has left a sour taste in the mouths of many locals. Members of the Neighbourhood Watch, most of them business people at the town, allegedly also informed a passenger in one of the cars that he was not allowed to carry alcohol in the vehicle at that time of the night.
“I was shocked. I was not even driving and these people come over to my side and tell me to get out of the vehicle because I was apparently drunk. How did they determine I was drunk just by looking at me? These people should stop doing what they are busy with if they love peace in this town and country,” a source who preferred anonymity said.
A heated argument which has since erupted between members of the Neighbourhood Watch and the two drivers of the vehicles was only defused by the arrival of the Namibian Police at the scene. The matter was later handled at the Gobabis Police Station.
What confuses drivers at the town is apparently the Namibian Police reflector vest allegedly worn by members of the Neighbourhood Watch when on patrol.
The Namibian Police could however not confirm or deny the allegations that the Neighbourhood Watch is often clad in the police colours when approached by this news agency for comment.
Omaheke Police Regional Commander, Commisioner Josephat Abel said the police were looking into the matter.
Abel had earlier issued a stern warning to members of the Gobabis Neighbourhood Watch who have reportedly been harassing residents, to desist from such deeds.
He said the harassment of residents at the hands of the newly-formed neighbourhood watch was a violation of basic human rights.
The Omaheke Police Regional Commander told Nampa on Monday that he has already consulted with the members of the Neighbourhood Watch on various occasions, where he had put the record straight on what is expected from a Neighbourhood Watch.
Abel was also at pains to note that the vast majority of members of the Gobabis Neighbourhood Watch are white, noting that he had encouraged the neighbourhood watch to open up membership across all racial groups.
“We do not want a misconception of the idea behind a neighbourhood watch. The main aim is crime prevention and that should not be abused. I have the mandate to stop their activities if they misbehave and I will not hesitate to do it,” he said.
No comment could be obtained from the Gobabis Neighbourhood Watch as repeated efforts in that regard proved futile.
Demonstrators who protested against the alleged attack on Gobabis entrepreneur Levi Katire in June this year linked the activities of the Gobabis Neighbourhood Watch to alleged acts of racism, which they claim is practiced by some white individuals at the town.