Keeping the catwalk safe

Early morning walkers gathering to stroll the catwalk together.

Safety in numbers – that’s the simple but effective tactic a Muizenberg man is using to help people enjoy a popular seaside walk without falling prey to muggers.

Wayne Turner, a Muizenberg resident and law enforcement auxiliary officer, has started group walks on the Muizenberg-St James catwalk. He started walking there with his wife, Rene, and is now inviting anyone who wants to join them to do so.

Mr Turner also holds the safety and security portfolio on the Muizenberg Improvement District, but the group walks are his own idea. The catwalk saw a spike in violent crime in 2017, with reports of several assaults and robberies. There were cases of walkers being attacked by hammer-wielding thugs and of assailants lobbing rocks onto walkers’ heads from the railway line before robbing them.

According to Muizenberg police spokesman, Captain Stephen Knapp, there are still “sporadic robberies” on the catwalk, but he said there had been fewer cases last year than in 2017 thanks to law enforcement’s efforts.

The safety walks start at the Muizenberg side of the catwalk at 6.30am and a neighbourhood watch member and two law enforcement safety officers take part, and Mr Turner will be in radio contact with SAPS. A patrol car is also often on duty in the area at the same time.

Mr Turner is a big believer in active citizenry, and he said several arrests made in recent weeks – including cases where suspects had been carrying dangerous weapons – showed what could be done when civilians and law enforcement agencies worked together.

But he added that the police were often hamstrung by victims of crime not pressing charges.

“I cannot overstate the necessity for people to lay a charge and open cases when their goods are stolen or there are incidents,” he said.

“When we arrest people and there is not enough evidence to back up the charges, they are let go. If you have had thefts, please, open a case at the police station.”

Mr Turner said he wanted to counter the “learned helplessness” belief that one person could not make a difference.

People should have the freedom to “enjoy the radical beauty of the area that they live in”, he said.

“Our morning walks are often punctuated with expressions of gratitude from people who love the area but have been too anxious to walk on their own. Also, they have the opportunity to walk in silence, protected, or to engage with fellow residents,” he said.

While the group walks seemed to be having a positive impact, he warned that common sense should still prevail.

“It’s safe when we walk in a group and people are talking about forming groups at other times, so that safety net will grow, but it’s not safe 100% of the time – and do not walk it alone.”