AfriForum working to “state-proof communities” as government crumbles

Civil society organisation AfriForum is working together – albeit on an ad hoc basis – with law enforcement authorities, and even the SANDF, on several initiatives aimed at creating robust civilian safety structures. The organisation has 155 neighbourhood and farm watch structures around South Africa encompassing 10,000 trained volunteers. It has been active on the South African border with Zimbabwe through its Border Watch initiative, and more recently assisted the Tshwane Metro Police Department with drones during flare-ups of violent protests in the west of Pretoria. AfriForum campaigns manager Jacques Broodryk tells BizNews they’re trying to “state-proof communities” against the continued failure of the government.

Jacques Broodryk on the initiatives AfriForum undertakes and if they’re bearing fruit

AfriForum has 155 neighbourhood and farm watch structures across the country, comprising roughly 10,000 trained volunteers. And these are people who get involved in securing their own communities. They go and they do patrols. Take pre-emptive steps to prevent crime and then also react to crime scenes when it’s necessary. So that’s the background to what we are involved with now, how that develops into the launching of what we recently did. The Border Watch initiative was our Musina Border Watch of Neighborhood Watch, you know, Musina on the border with Zimbabwe. And our guys there are patrollers who have been involved with fighting cross-border crime for a number of years now, and they’ve become very effective at it. They’ve given it their own intelligence networks and gained a lot of experience in this regard. 

We got to a point where the successes couldn’t be ignored anymore, and they also started developing a very good working relationship with the local law enforcement, as well as some of the military personnel that are deployed to patrol those borders. And together, they had many, many successes. And this led to us producing a documentary about the challenges that they face and the agencies they go to document on what’s called open borders. And then we had such an immensely huge positive feedback from the public regarding our efforts. We realised that the Border Watch issue was something that needed to be addressed on a much broader scale. So we launched this initiative with the aim of strengthening and garnering even more resources for our neighbourhood watches, specifically in border areas, because they are facing our unique challenges to save water in the same way as neighbourhood watches in suburban areas.  

On the game changer that drone capability provides to law enforcement

It definitely is a game changer. Like we saw last week, with the Minister of Police Bheki Cele also saying that the police are now going to buy a bunch of drones and that clearly shows how effective this has been. Blindsides are a very big problem, especially in informal settlements where nothing is structured or planned properly. So the drones definitely give that advantage because we also know that protesters in South Africa, as ironic as this might sound, are very experienced. They understand police tactics. They know how to create distractions, send a few guys somewhere. Start a small fire, police respond to that area and then the main group  actually comes around another way. And so the drone kind of alters all of those charges and it really, really makes the police’s efforts much more effective.  

On whether political interference spoils the working relationship with law enforcement

Unfortunately, there’s a very big element of negative interference from people politicizing the issue. And unfortunately, through years of corruption and mismanagement and political interference, the relationship between the community and law enforcement has deteriorated seriously. So AfriForum could play a very big role in filling that gap, re-introducing local law enforcement to the community and taking them to the farms and areas where the problems are. And that led to one of the big successes. But unfortunately, when we announce these successes and it gets covered by the media, then we’ve seen multiple times recently, again after the launch of open borders, that some instruction would come from high levels up to the ground forces and tell them that they are not allowed to cooperate with AfriForum’s structures at all. And that’s very, very disappointing. And it just shows that our government sincerely does not have South Africans’ best interests at heart. This is a political power play. And that obviously brings up the question, why would they not want to secure the borders? Are there people who are perhaps involved with illegal activities or making money from it? 

On whether the relationship with SANDF and other law enforcement agencies is purely on an ad hoc basis or if there’s a partnership

It’s purely on an ad hoc basis at this stage. We get involved when they need us and vice versa when we have information and planning operations where we know that they could also be useful, we’ll be successful, then we will obviously get involved. So there’s nothing official at this stage. It’s just the civilians playing the roles of volunteers and supporting law enforcement as best as they can.  

On how he would describe the purpose of AfriForum and how that fits into contemporary South Africa

I think AfriForum is a civil rights organisation, but we have a proud Afrikaans character and we are a proudly Afrikaner organisation. But that doesn’t mean that we once discriminated against anybody. We help wherever we can to build out people’s civil rights in this country and to try to prevent the government from trampling on those rights. And unfortunately, with the ANC government over the last few years, we’ve seen that that has become a major issue in various instances, not just the mismanagement of, say, law enforcement and health services; but wrongful arrests before getting sentenced for the wrong reasons, absolute abuses of power, corruption. It’s also got to the stage where basic services aren’t being delivered anymore, potholes aren’t being repaired, streetlights aren’t being fixed, neighbourhoods aren’t secure. So AfriForum has started playing a very large role – not in providing those services, but taking control of those services ourselves. 

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