IN TOUCH| Rural safety is paramount

Phumelele Hlati

On Wednesday night I happened to tune in to etv Channel 194 and ended up watching Checkpoint. The issue that was covered were the killings of 11 elderly people by an unknown person or persons in a very short period of time at Ezingqolweni near Lady Frere.

Apparently the gruesome killings occurred over a period of about  six months and has left the community not only traumatised but eternally afraid for their own safety. Villages, by their very nature, have households situated far from one another. They are arranged in such a way that individual household safety becomes difficult to maintain as many households these days are no longer the full and bustling ones they once were just  two decades ago.

Many younger people have gone to urban areas for various reasons and leave the elderly all by themselves or living with small children who really are just there to offer companionship and no help, security wise. This village and so many like it are therefore at the mercy of any person or persons with evil intent. What has happened, however, to this village is very much out of the ordinary – to have 11 elderly people butchered in the same way in an obscure village should have triggered all the SAPS protocols so that the killer or killers were caught as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, since 2019, no definite breakthrough has occurred in this case. In their response the police said they were still waiting for forensic results from the items they collected at the scenes. The man who spoke on behalf of the police was non-committal about anything, but he was insistent that they did not believe that the killings were the work of a serial killer because they ‘did not want to scare the community’. So where does this leave the community of Ezingqolweni and many others like them caught in the grip of crime and with nowhere to run.

The people told the reporter they no longer felt safe in their own homes, they ate supper by 6pm and then left their houses to sleep in a group in one house. If you know anything about the elderly and their love of their own space, you would see that this is a major disruption. To give up sleeping on your own bed and in your own house, to give up living freely in your own household is a huge psychological problem.

People associate rural areas with peace and tranquility but these days it is anything but. They are now dens of drug users, rapes and other serious crimes – a far cry from what they were a mere two decades ago. The social fabric of many of these villages has broken down so much that many people would rather live in cramped spaces in the urban areas than risk harm in the villages.

Judging from the response of the SAPS spokesperson they seem to be no closer to solving these killings. He seemed defensive and offered no concrete steps to be taken to solve the safety problem in that village or any village for that matter, in a similar predicament. Unfortunately, this is the life in the rural areas. The government department must come to the party and start crafting solutions to these problems before rural areas become ghost villages. With local government elections coming up, these things should be prioritised and given attention.