With a black walkie talkie in her hand, the fearless and confident Glenda Arendse walks the streets on a cold, dark winter’s morning.
Just after 5.30 am, the Lentegeur Neighbourhood Watch chairperson and her team, dressed in blue and yellow tracksuits, are busy patrolling the area, where gang violence is rife.
The dedicated group, mostly women, wakes up just after 4 am to ensure the safety of children and working residents in the area. The sixty-year-old woman has been working with her team with limited resources for many years; in fact, her community safety journey started in back in 2007 when she was part of the street committee.
Arendse said she was always interested in matters of safety. In 1985, she was in the security sector, where she worked as a security guard, worked undercover and was a store detective. She recalls the day that confirmed she was meant to be involved with safety.
“I was on a train in Bonteheuwel and saw a guy pushing a woman with a baby and robbing her. She was so traumatised. I immediately approached him and gave him a few punches. That was many years ago, but what I couldn’t do was watch a woman and child get hurt,” she says.
In 2013, Arendse was made the chairperson of the Lentegeur NHW. She and her team work around the clock, in the mornings and in the evenings. A gang operates in different sections of the area they work in, which means that they regularly encounter gang members.
“We are criminals’ worst nightmare. And even more so to the gangsters, because as a safety structure we are very firm and stand our ground. In our line of work, we are most likely going to run into gangsters, and you’ll know how to approach them: it differs from person to person.
“There are times when I don’t treat them like gangsters, and rather like my own children. I can bring them down to my own level, but I also know when I need to be firm, loud and a bit rough. It really depends on the situation, I’m not scared, why must I be scared?” she says.
Arendse says there have been times when her team was in the line of fire. Last year she and her team were on their way home from a patrol and were caught in the middle of two guys about to fire firearms.
“As I walked, I looked to the side and looked straight into the barrel of the gun, and on the other side I saw another guy with the gun. As we stood in the middle of the two of them, they ducked, and we moved away quickly. That day, I really thought I was going to die, but fortunately I didn’t.
“There were other incidents where our members had to run for cover because these guys decide to shoot in the area, but again, no harm was done,” she says.
Arendse says these incidents will not discourage her from doing what she does. Instead, they motivate her. The neighbourhood watch base is at the Cornflower Primary School. The white shipping container has become like a mini police station where people usually complain about safety matters or ask for assistance when they’ve become the victim of violence.
“People in this area can’t help but come to us for support, and we try and assist. Most of the time we are the first responders when there is a shooting or stabbing incident or other crime issue in the area. We also have a walking bus team who assists the children at schools: these people are just amazing.
“The first walking bus member is at a school at 5 am, because the first child needs to be at a school in this area at 5.30 am. So, what can we do, the parent has to go to work, we have to step in and help,” she says.
Arendse says she is extremely passionate about her community and believes that things will get better. Her concern is that young teenagers get recruited by the gangs. She said she is tired of people blaming poverty for their circumstances.
“It begins with you. You have the choice to change your situation: the blaming-your-circumstances excuse is old now. However, I do believe that there are too few activities for our youth, as they need to find an alternative to being part of a gang and seeing the merchant (street-level drug seller) as a role model,” she says.