Homeless people say armed neighbourhood-watch patrollers roughed them up, barked racist slurs at them and stole their IDs and other possessions after finding them sleeping on railway land in Parow.
The Parow Community Police Forum is investigating the allegations.
Three homeless people spoke to the Northern News about what allegedly happened to the group of about 10 people sleeping next to De Grendel railway station in the early hours of Saturday November 25.
They say one of their number tried to report the alleged incident to the Parow police but was turned away.
They claim the patrollers wore Parow North Lower Neighbourhood Watch (PNLNHW) bibs and they recognised them as the same people who had harassed them at least four other times this year.
The three homeless people we spoke to said they had seen one of the patrollers carrying what could have been a nunchaku, stun gun or baton. Another had had a holstered gun.
Johan Muller, 29, one of the 10 or so other homeless people sleeping on the railway land that night, said the patrollers, of which there had been about eight to 10, had used a bolt cutter to force open a gate.
“They took all our belongings including our IDs. We have no shoes or clothes, and we have been forced to sleep on a mat,” he said.
Michelle Jonkers, 27, who has been in the area for three months, said the patrollers had grabbed the R150 worth of groceries she had bought after doing an odd job.
“When they come for you, you just have to grab whatever you can and run,” she said.
Mr Muller said he was disgusted with how “Oupa” had been treated.
“They said he stinks, hit him and made racist remarks toward us all. They have no respect for the elderly.”
Nicholas “Oupa” Misland, 65, has been living on the streets of Parow North since 2003. It had been about 3am, he said, when the patrollers had kicked him awake.
It’s hard living in the area, he said, if you’re homeless.
“If I skarrel for money to buy a cigarette and walk to the closest shop, I am chased away.”
The homeless have a sympathetic ear, though, in the form of Parow resident David Petersen, who offered to help them by alerting the CPF, the police and the media.
He believes what happened that night was a “pre-planned and pre-meditated exercise to go and harass, victimise and steal from pre-selected vagrants”.
He said SAPS and law enforcement should be present during neighbourhood watch patrols to stop patrollers stepping out of line and trampling on the basic human rights of the homeless.
Parow police spokesman Captain Kevin Williams said neighbourhood watch members operated under the aegis of CPFs, which forbade vigilantism
“Violence towards others can and will not be tolerated,” he said.
But according to Mr Muller, one of their group, a man called “Rodney”, was turned away by the Parow police on Saturday when he tried to report the alleged incident.
Captain Williams said he didn’t know about that, but he stressed that everyone was protected under the constitution, and neighbourhood watches weren’t above the law.
“The CPF and police receive regular complaints about the homeless from residents. However, the homeless also have a right to complain about residents if they are ill-treated,” he said.
The Northern News was unable to locate “Rodney” before this edition went to print.
Parow CPF chairman Roger Cannon said homeless people in the area were “asked to leave” by the neighbourhood watches because “they soon increase from one to two people to 10 to 12 overnight”.
Law enforcement also took “the necessary steps” against the homeless, he said.
“We have never received any reports or complaints about ill-treatment from vagrants in any part of Parow yet.”
He said any homeless people who were “roughed up” had a right to report it to SAPS.
“This is a Department of Social Development issue and should be directed to that department so the homeless can be placed in institutions,” he said.
Criminals lived among the homeless, said Mr Cannon, and that was why neighbourhood watches monitored them closely and law-enforcement agencies were called on to “remove them from hot spots”.
Mr Cannon vowed to investigate the allegations made by Mr Muller, Mr Misland and Ms Jonkers.
PNLNHW chairman Leon van Eeden declined to comment when phoned but later sent a briefly worded email: “The matter you have brought to our attention has been handed over to the Parow CPF for further investigation.”
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and the Department of Community Safety did not respond to questions by deadline.