Festive lights aftermath

Rook Cycles in Long Street was one of the shops which was looted.

While security authorities say the Festive Lights Switch On event was well organised, it was what happened afterwards that caused chaos.

Large crowds, drunk teenagers, robberies, looting, and two fatal stabbings were among the incidents which police and law enforcement had to deal with after the event.

The Cape Town Central police spokesperson, Captain Ezra October, said police were called to the Company’s Garden in the early hours of Monday morning, where a man’s body was found near the National Gallery with three stab wounds to the stomach.

A 16-year-old boy was also stabbed on the Grand Parade and was taken to Somerset Hospital, but later died. Both of the killings are still under investigation and no one has been arrested.

Seven teenagers, aged between 14 and 24, were also arrested in Long Street, after they broke into Rook Bicycles in Long Street and stole merchandise. Six bicycles were recovered.

A 17-year old boy and 15-year-old girl are also in custody after they broke a display window at a clothing store, also in Long Street, and stole clothes and cosmetics.

Captain October said while the incidents took place outside the Festive Lights Switch On event on the Grand Parade, as well as after the allocated hours, they happened on the same night and as a result of the many people in the CBD after the event.

“There were thousands of people – this is probably the busiest the city ever was. Afterwards, minibuses of teenagers flocked into town and the youth started drinking out of cars and bakkies. Police confiscated alcohol as well.”

The City Central Improvement District safety manager, Muneeb Hendricks, said the event itself was extremely well organised and managed.

“Far fewer incidents were recorded at the event itself due to the strict no alcohol policy. The concern, however, is after the event and when the patrons leave the event footprint. About half the people in attendance generally head towards the entertainment districts like Long Street, Loop Street and Bree Street.

“SAPS is part of the initial planning and while they deployed additional people to the event, they were overwhelmed by the numbers.”

He said the CCID responded to various reports, including drinking in public and drunken behaviour, loud music from taxis, fights, break-ins at businesses and malicious damage to property.

“The CCID suggests all agencies not only plan for the event, but the aftermath as well. Deployment of personnel should not stop or be scaled down when the event ends, but rather maintained, as this is when they are needed most. The event itself is a contained fenced-in area and order can be maintained, as opposed to when people exit in an open public space.

“They should be looking at ways to minimise the after effects such as closing down and pedestrianising certain streets, deploying foot patrols in club and pub areas, deploying traffic services, restricting vehicles entering the CBD laden with alcohol and restricting under-age drinking by conducting stop-and-search operations on youth as well.”

He said he was aware of the two killings but declined to comment as the matters were still under investigation.

The Mayco member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith, said the City of Cape Town’s safety and security directorate will meet with relevant role-players soon to conduct a debriefing session around the annual Festive Lights Switch On event. “The City established a joint operations centre at the venue to coordinate the functions of all security and emergency personnel deployed on the day. The centre recorded no major incidents for the duration of the event.”

He said the City’s enforcement staff confiscated a number of dangerous weapons during the event, including imitation firearms and knives, as well as 407 bottles of alcohol. “This is significantly lower than the alcohol haul at the previous event, which totalled 1 818 bottles.”

The South African Police Service said 15 cases of robbery were opened at the Cape Town Central police station, and that five arrests were made related to these cases. “It is unfortunate, but the reality is that any large public access event is likely to attract a criminal element and we will probably never know the true extent of incidents like theft, as many people do not report the incidents.”

He said the City would liaise with the SAPS around the progress of the investigations into the killings and see what, if anything, could have been done to have prevented the deaths.

The ward councillor for the city centre, Dave Bryant, said the switching on of the festive lights is an important and much-loved event for Capetonians from across the metro, however, a significant allocation of additional resources is essential to deal with issues of crime and anti-social behaviour that take place away from the main event area as a consequence of the high numbers of people attending.

“This must be addressed before the event next year to ensure public safety and if this does not happen, I will not support the event application. We cannot allow such a positive event to be marred by the sickening actions of a small group of criminals and opportunists and they must be dealt with by the full might of the law.”