Children run a gauntlet of muggings and traffic on the way to school

Pedestrian bridges across major Cape Town freeway are favourite haunts for criminals

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School children on their way to school in Walmer Estate and Zonnebloem cross the Father Basil van Rensburg pedestrian bridge over the six-lane Nelson Mandela Boulevard in Cape Town. The bridges are favoured haunts for criminals, say teachers, parents, and school children. Photo: Matthew Hirsch

  • An 11-year-old was killed while attempting to cross a freeway on the way to school in Walmer Estate earlier this month.
  • There are a number of pedestrian bridges in the area, but they are favourite haunts for criminals who steal children’s bags and cellphones.
  • There are concerns that children choose to cross the busy Nelson Mandela Boulevard rather than risk getting mugged.

The death of a primary school child on the way to school in Walmer Estate, Cape Town, on 11 April has highlighted the choice young children face: risk getting mugged on a pedestrian bridge, or dodge rush-hour traffic.

The Grade 5 pupil from Walmer Estate Primary School died after being hit by a car while attempting to cross the busy six-lane Nelson Mandela Boulevard on the way to school.

Although there are two pedestrian bridges in the Walmer Estate and Zonnebloem vicinity, in which there are seven schools, parents and school principals say they are hotspots for muggings, which may lead to children choosing to dodge traffic instead.

Raghma Mandoll, a parent who lives in the area, said the pedestrian bridges were notorious for muggings so children chose to take their chances running across the freeway.

Zonnebloem Nest Senior School principal Heather Calmeyer said the pedestrian bridges are known hotspots for petty crime.

“The area is incredibly unsafe. There are multiple reports of muggings from the kids. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence,” said Calmeyer.

“It’s usually two guys who have knives. They ask for the (school) bags or the phones. It becomes very unsafe this time of year because it becomes darker [earlier],” she said.

Sabrina Sasman, the principal of Walmer Estate Primary, said muggings were an issue. “Unfortunately the primary school children are more vulnerable.

“There are teachers and staff members at the school that have also been mugged. So it is a problem,” said Sasman.

She said many incidents weren’t getting reported. “We need to do something about it. We (the schools) need to ensure that it is reported.”

School children GroundUp spoke to said they used the bridges when there was a visible security guard to protect them, otherwise they had to be aware of “robbers on the bridge”.

Another parent, Roxanne Coetzee, spoke to GroundUp after dropping her child at school. She echoed Mandoll’s sentiments about safety in the area. “I always walk with my child. You get crazy people out here,” she said.

When GroundUp visited the Father Basil van Rensburg pedestrian bridge just after 7am on 22 April, learners were using it as there was a security guard deployed by the Woodstock Improvement District keeping watch, along with a number of private security vehicles and a City of Cape Town law enforcement vehicle patrolling the area.

Gene Lohrentz, from the Woodstock Improvement District, said, “We are aware of specific incidents on the bridge, mostly focussed on the Walmer Estate side of the bridge.”

He said officers did patrol the bridge during commuter times in the mornings and afternoons. He said they were investigating the possibility of having CCTV cameras installed in the area soon.

Western Cape Education Department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said schools and the department are involved in various initiatives to ensure road safety around schools, in collaboration with local authorities and other agencies.

“This is a heartbreaking and tragic accident. This is sadly yet another reminder of the importance of road safety which is taught to learners through our life skills programme,” said Hammond.

Captain F.C Van Wyk, SAPS provincial spokesperson, told GroundUp that they had “not noticed an increase in muggings” in the Searle Street area.

Cape Town Central Police Station spokesperson Ezra October said a case of culpable homicide had been opened after the death of the learner and police were looking for more information on the incident.

Anyone with information can contact Crime Stop at 08600 10111

Correction on 2024-04-30 14:47

This article was updated to include the correct name of the Woodstock Improvement District.

TOPICS:  Crime

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