ABOUT five years ago, in the thick of the night, I was on my verandah thinking things through with the help of a well-formulated tonic and generally being alert when I spotted some movement on the road outside.
Focusing my sights through the wall railings, I watched as someone lithe and quick slithered over my neighbour’s wall and went over silently using the method of an athletic high jumper.
I was only alarmed for a few seconds, during which I worked through my options and then whipped out my phone to call the Police. I had the number of our local police station and the direct line of the Officer in Charge (OC) there, as I normally walk over to collect such details when I move into a new neighbourhood.
The station number went through and I quickly reported that I had probably witnessed a possible burglary or robbery either starting or in progress, and gave them directions to the location. Jittery about the likely response time, I tried another number to escalate the issue then walked up to my night guard to work out a plan – just in case we needed to be heroic in some way.
We were still whispering about it a few minutes later when there was a light tap at the gate. Our astonishment at opening to find the police right there only increased when we found that they had not only arrived stealthily but had spread out along our road in some formation I cannot describe.
The commander of the operation explained that they had sneaked up in order not to alert anyone to their presence, and had parked their vehicle a distance away. He asked for more details all in very hushed tones. I explained myself and insisted on going over to the house with them – in the unlikely event that my eyesight had played night-time tricks on me.
When we got to my neighbour’s gate I started to recall that I had heard a little hooting there at the time I was walking to where my askari normally ‘takes cover’. I also recalled seeing the lights of a car driving down in that direction.
It took a while for the gate to open up but eventually the askari opened up and reluctantly went off to call his employer, my bemused neighbour, who did not appreciate being woken at that hour. I explained myself to him and insisted that he allow a search of the premises just in case the person I had seen was hiding somewhere waiting to strike.
The reluctant askari seemed to be against the idea but we prevailed and the police gained access and conducted a search. They found nothing amiss and no-one of interest. My neighbour was quite perturbed but humoured us enough to allow a second search rousing everyone in the household.
That was when his wife expressed surprise since she had just returned home a short while before that, hence the hooting I had heard.
During that time I realised that this particular neighbour was the only one of the houses around me whose phone number I did not have. I had the contact numbers of all the others, and have had to call them on occasion for things other than to borrow sugar and salt.
Eventually, we worked out that the person I had spotted going over the wall was my neighbour’s askari. It turned out that he had a habit of going for drinks at a nearby kafunda after his employers had retired to bed. This night, his employer (the wife) had stayed out uncharacteristically late but the askari spotted her vehicle from his kafunda and sprinted back to the house.
He arrived a little too late, finding her already hooting at the gate, and took the athletic route over the wall. He deservedly joined the unemployed shortly thereafter, and I added my neighbour’s contact details to my database.
We discussed how badly things could have gone if indeed the person I had spotted had been a burglar or worse, and how my not having my neighbour’s contact details would have caused me great regret forever after.
Right there, at that late hour of the night, we also discussed how impressed we were with the police, as I neither had to invoke any big names nor provide fuel for whatever vehicle they were using. Some of them had even trotted over on foot from their night patrol, I later realised. I applaud those men and women in uniform whenever I get the chance because it can’t be easy to spend nights doing this day in, day out.
Our neighbourhood or community watch has since developed into an institution working closely with the police and local council structures. The recent incidents of highly visible insecurity have triggered off an increase in community policing efforts that we should all take seriously.
In our neighbourhood, we’ve resolved to step up our community policing or neighbourhood watch efforts, starting with information sharing and keeping in touch with each other as neighbours.
We know that crime will not be stopped entirely, but it can be decreased significantly. If we are more alert as citizens and neighbours.
We are the first line of our own security.