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Unrest and fake news cause panic

We live in unprecedented times, where social unrest is rife and communities need to be more vigilant than ever; while unnecessary panic serves no good, says Phillip van Zijl, owner of Bolt Risk Management, security provider for Brackenfell Business Improvement District (BBID).

While none of the violent protesting and looting that took place in Kraaifontein on Wednesday 22 July in actual fact spilled over into residential areas or the Brackenfell CBD, fake news that both suburbs and many shops and malls are being overrun by violent protestors spread like wildfire on social media causing much panic.

Protests erupted on Botfontein Road in the morning after Eskom cut the power in Wallacedene.

It very quickly spread to a small section of Kraaifontein CBD in the area of Shoprite, but was contained by police, after a liquor store, pawn shop and chicken truck was looted. Roads in the vicinity were closed.

“Protestors were relatively close to Brackenfell CBD and residential areas, but not one shop, home or business in Brackenfell was attacked during the riots,” says Van Zijl.

Nonetheless, their phones rang off the hook as fearful residents and business owners contacted local security companies after seeing several posts on social media.

“All sorts of fake information were being circulated, about local supermarkets and malls in Brackenfell being looted and neighbourhoods being invaded,” he says.

Van Zijl says the BBID has a widespread camera network that covers the CBD and surrounds, with which the area is permanently monitored for crime or other imminent threats.

“Furthermore, all the private security patrol vehicles in Brackenfell are in contact with one another, as was the case on Wednesday, with updated information,” he says.

Should a threat occur, necessary warnings will be issued by the BBID and other security companies.

He urges community members to verify information received by means of social media, before spreading it.

“Did you get it from the police, or see it yourself? Did your neighbour see it? Or did someone hear it from someone else? Was it verified by a local authority? Ask yourself these questions before you share information that can cause panic,” he says.

While he recognises that the situation is currently very tense, it would serve local communities better to orchestrate readiness plans, for any eventuality.

“There is a sense of expectation and panic. Covid-19 has created a very volatile scenario. People are sitting at home, many without jobs or any form of income. Poverty is reaching new heights, while those addicted to alcohol are desperate. Add to that political instability and criminals that take advantage of this and you have a very explosive situation,” he says.

As citizens we must have readiness plans in place for any eventuality, he advises.

“Many liquor stores in Brackenfell have become the target of crime in recent months, and it is expected to continue.

“There is also a lot of social unrest and it is not impossible for it to reach local business districts or suburbs, if things get worse.

“Talk to your neighbour and other residents in your street to put safety plans in place, to guard against escalating crime or public unrest.

“Every street, block and every suburb should have a safety plan in place. Neighbourhood watches alone cannot always guard every street. We have to take responsibility for our safety.

He advises residents to start street Whats­App groups and to establish a communication procedure and strateg for any kind of emergency.

Van Zijl says while police and law enforcement officers block off major roads during protests, smaller roads are often left unprotected, leaving communities vulnerable.

According to him, crime has increased considerably, with more criminal incidents reported to Bolt Risk Management in the last month, than over the last 12 months.

“This to me is an indication that the situation is intensifying. Thousands of people are struggling to survive and will go to any means possible to do so,” he says.

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