Extortionists target township business owners, Newsline

LOCAL police have launched a 24-hour hotline to try and curb the growing trend of extortion in and around townships in the city.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa said that “weekly operational assessment sessions are convened to determine impact and identify shifts and displacement in the pattern”.

Potelwa added that police have been monitoring a concerning pattern in some identified areas within the Cape Town metropole and a few outlying communities outside the City where reports of business owners being threatened to pay protection money in return for the safety of businesses and property.

“Unfortunately, reports of protection money at the disposal of police have either been relayed through third parties or mainstream and social media. A common thread in these incidents is that the primary victims of the extortion phenomenon rarely report cases to police,” said Potelwa.

She said that the dedicated 24-hour telephone line has been set up to receive and follow complaints or information pertaining to incidents of extortion.

Criminals in Khayelitsha have expanded their extortion operation from spaza shops to crèches, hawkers and even landlords with granny flats to earn an income. Operations have extended to other areas including Mfuleni, Kraaifontein, Joe Slovo near Milnerton, Nyanga and Gugulethu.

Business owners claim to have been paid a visit by the extortionists in a bid to “set up an agreement”.

A 62-year-old retired domestic worker turned crèche owner in Town Two, Khayelitsha said she was told that as soon as her early childhood development centre re-opens, she has to prepare to pay.

“I opened my crèche six years ago, before lockdown, I had 45 children across ages. I was told that I would have to pay protection fee but they did not tell me what the protection is for because we have never had a break-in or anything of that sort since we started. This is bad and I fear it could cause us to lose businesses because parents may fear sending their children,” she said.

Nosivile Sobhuza from Makhaya said that though her three-year-old daughter’s crèche had not opened yet, she is not yet certain whether she will be able to keep her from school as a result of the criminal activities.

“My mother looks after my child, she has been since the start of lockdown, word on the street is that these guys do whatever it takes to get the money, they even kill for it. I cannot risk my child’s life. I just hope the authorities clamp down on this soon so that at least by January we are able to send our children to school,” she said.

While Nomzabalazo Gumede, mother to four-year-old said the crèche her daughter attended before lockdown will not re-open but if it had, she would not send her back. “This is scary, not only is she asthmatic so I probably would not have sent her back anyway but this extortion business has made it worse,” she said.

The Khayelitsha Development Forum has since called on all Khayelitsha residents to join a prayer meeting tomorrow at the Khayelitsha stadium at midday. According to the forum’s chairperson, “the meeting is aimed at denouncing the scourge of extortion”.