Harfield Village is experiencing one of its worst crime waves in recent years, one that cost 43-year-old Steven Otter his life, in a house robbery last week.
Mr Otter was stabbed in the chest and face by intruders who invaded his Cambridge Street home in the early hours of Friday, December 16, as he tried to defend his partner, Nathalie Williams, and her daughter, Madison, 7. He died in Ms Williams’s arms.
After experiencing a fairly quiet festive season last year, civic groups say Harfield Village has been “hit hard” this year, leading to an increase in patrols in the area.
Harlyn Neighbourhood Watch chairman Derek Bluck said the community was in shock after the death of Mr Otter, who was well known in political and media circles, as he had been a spokesman for the City of Cape Town and a journalist at Independent Media, which also publishes the Tatler.
Mr Bluck said the area was experiencing problems with plenty of petty crimes, as well as burglaries, theft out of vehicles and alcohol abuse.
“Something has turned it around, because the crime has really hit Harfield Village very hard.
“We have stepped up patrols and we have more patrollers on the street,” said Mr Bluck.
“But more people need to come on board with the watch if we are to address the crime issues within our community,” said Mr Bluck.
He said the watch has deployed 54 patrollers who are doing the rounds at various times of the day. There is also talk of introducing new security cameras and increasing watch membership.
“This is an isolated incident, as the last murder our community experienced was around four years ago, but indeed, this was a very unfortunate incident. It remains important for the people to join the watch. They don’t have to patrol, but they just need to be members who can be informed about crime patterns and trends,” Mr Bluck said.
Mr Otter was born in Johannesburg in 1973, but grew up in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. After his one-year military conscription, in the early 90s, he moved to Cape Town to enrol at Peninsula Technikon (now CPUT) as a journalism student, where he obtained his National Diploma in Journalism. He worked as a reporter for the Cape Argus and as a sub-editor, reporter and photographer for a weekly publication in Amsterdam. His book Khayelitsha: uMlungu in a Township is based on his time living in Khayelitsha. In February 2006, he served as the chief media liaison officer for the Independent Democrats.
In September 2010, he acted as the spokesman for the former MEC for Social Development, Patricia De Lille, and, in June 2011, he switched, acting as spokesman for the MEC for Transport, Robin Carlisle, before joining Transport for Cape Town’s (TCT) communication, marketing and change management unit in June 2014 as the head of community engagement.
“He really found his niche in this role,” said the City’s mayoral committee member for transport, Brett Herron, who had known Mr Otter for nearly 10 years.
“His death is devastating to me personally, and I have been deeply saddened by it. Steve had an authentic and unique passion and care for those who are marginalised and vulnerable, and he worked extremely hard to ensure that their voices, needs and concerns were heard by TCT as we rolled out transport-related projects across the city. The level of commitment to a fair outcome and meaningful participation will, quite frankly, be impossible to replace,” Mr Herron said with a heavy-heart.
Mr Otter was recently involved in arranging 33 public meetings, as part of the public consultation process for the roll out of the next phase of the MyCiTi project from Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain to Claremont and Wynberg.
Mr Herron said they had recently commenced with a road and sidewalk upgrade project in Imizamo Yethu, in Hout Bay, and had been deadlocked for many years because it involved the relocation of informal structures in some places.
It was Mr Otter who worked tirelessly with community leaders and the residents in finding a solution so that the project could start, he said.
“He has made a major contribution to the work we have done in TCT.
“The scale of that public consultation process – 33 meetings – is unprecedented. He played a major role in bringing minibus taxi operators and communities on board in the run-up to the 2014 launch of the N2 Express MyCiTi service from Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain to the Civic Centre station. The success of this service and the partnership with the industry can be considered a memorial to his work and something he and his family can be very proud of,” Mr Herron added.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, for whom Mr Otter had worked when she was leader of the Independent Democrats, said she was devastated by his murder.
A statement from the City of Cape Town said Ms De Lille had fondly referred to Mr Otter as “Stevovo” or “my pavement special” in reference to his eccentric nature.
“I have known and worked with dear Stevovo for many years and he was truly a one-of-a-kind person whose dedication was certainly one of his greatest traits. He will be sorely missed.”
Claremont Community Police Forum (CPF) chairman Abdul Kerbelker said they were upset by Mr Otter’s death. “The CPF of Claremont are saddened to have lost such a bridge builder in our city.”
Mr Kerbelker called on all members of the Claremont community to “draw closer” in their partnerships with the police.
“Through our neighbourhood watch and partnership policing, we can provide a joint solution to the scourge of crime in our country,” he said.
Harfield Village Association (HVA) chairman James Fernie said the killing of Mr Otter had sent shockwaves through Harfield Village, especially since the community had not seen an incident like it for many years.
He said incidents of this nature do not only become important when they occur in the more “affluent areas”, but crime was a general problem, and he called on everybody to stand together.
“When people see these types of stories, they ask why does that make headlines when there are deaths happening everywhere else. I am saying that crime happens everywhere, and it’s important to note that crime is not only increasing in Harfield Village, but it’s on the rise all over Cape Town,” he said.
“I have spoken to many people within the village and everybody has pointed out that it’s not only our community that is experiencing this crime problem, it’s happening everywhere, but it comes down to the resident, the people living in these communities.”
Mr Fernie helped to establish the Harfield Village Community Improvement District, which works with ADT and the HVA.
“People must now mobilise in each community among themselves and work together to help prevent crime. Get to know your neighbours, start WhatsApp groups, become informed and join your local initiatives to fight crime. It’s the only way,” Mr Fernie said.
The HVCID, which was formed two years ago, has two dedicated ADT security vehicles stationed in the area and there are plans to add a third next year.
Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut, provincial police spokesperson, confirmed that two suspects were on the run.
It is believed they stole a television set, a laptop computer and a cellphone.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Traut, the two intruders stabbed Mr Otter as he was apparently trying to protect his partner and her daughter.
“The circumstances surrounding the matter are being investigated,” he said.
The memorial service for Mr Otter will take place at the Baptist Church, 39 Cook Road, in Claremont, on Friday December 23, at 2pm.
To become a Haryln Neighbourhood Watch member, contact 071 802 2454.
To find out more about the Harfield Village Community Improvement District, visit www.hvcid.co.za or contact the HVCID manager, Jenni Coleman, at 081 412 6109, between 8am and 6pm, from Monday to Friday or email firstname.lastname@example.org