Cape Recife hit hard by metro’s security void
Reserve losing permit income and left vulnerable to poachers and thugs
The security void at numerous heritage and tourism sites and other public areas in Nelson Mandela Bay is temporary, with safety and security expected to be beefed up in the coming months and during the next financial year.These assurances were given by acting Bay municipal manager Peter Neilson on Tuesday after Port Elizabeth’s sprawling Cape Recife Nature Reserve – which visitors can only access with a permit – came under the spotlight for its lack of access control and security guards for the past three months.And, according to Neilson, the Bay’s future security arsenal could include the latest in hightech security devices – face-recognition equipment.The guards were withdrawn from Cape Recife, along with guards from other important heritage and tourism hotspots such as the Campanile and Fort Frederick, in early January and following the cancellation of a massive municipal security contract and the insourcing of security guards.The move, which resulted in the loss of more than 600 M Secure (formerly Metro Security) jobs and the municipal insourcing of 212 of the former guards, came after a council decision in late 2018 and the consequent cancellation of the security contract in December.This has left tourists, locals and many of the region’s important assets vulnerable to criminality and vandalism.For the 366-hectare Cape Recife Nature Reserve, which was once notorious for perlemoen poaching, security is of particular concern due to the isolated nature of the reserve on the outskirts of the city.Marking the western point of Algoa Bay, Cape Recife attracts visitors to its historic lighthouse, World War 2 military observation posts, 9km walking trail, renowned bird hide and the SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) penguin rehabilitation centre.The vast, bushy area, which also hosts access to a municipal water treatment works in the vicinity, is a popular fishing, surfing, picnic and braai venue.“The current situation regarding the deployment of security is temporary,” Neilson said.“The changes around security took place last year, when we were spending a large sum of money on the security contract. After concluding a cost-to-benefit exercise, it was determined that we should insource our security services.“This has now taken place, but it was done under the existing budget,” Neilson said.“We have to utilise the existing budget spend until July and the next financial year. However the balance of the budget required for security will be tabled in the interim,” he said.“At Cape Recife specifically, we wanted to deploy rangers as opposed to normal security as they would be better equipped [but] there was no funding for that under the existing budget.“It has been a delicate task to work out which assets need to be protected, when and how, and so we have had to swing things around a bit [allocate and manage resources optimally] to make the best of the situation.“But this should all improve going forward.”Questioned about talk of an initiative to implement a privately funded, automated number plate recognition system at Cape Recife – which would work in conjunction with the municipality’s permit system and thereby monitor and control vehicle access by allowing permit holders in – Neilson said he was not aware of the initiative.“No, I am not aware of that. “However, we are considering a pilot project which could see face-recognition technology installed in the city centre [although] there are many aspects, including privacy, which need to be taken into account.“Besides the obvious law enforcement benefits, the greater idea is to bring people back to areas where they do not feel safe, to make no-go areas into areas where people can go and be safe. We want to bring the vibe back to the city.“If a pilot project such as this can prove to be successful, it can be rolled out to other areas in the metro and then there is obviously potential to integrate that technology and security with ideas such as the number plate recognition concept for Cape Recife,” he said.A municipal insider, who asked not to be identified, revealed earlier this week that a privately funded recognition system – which would be operated and monitored from a control room at an anti-poaching organisation based at the lighthouse – was being considered.The insider also revealed that random patrols were still being carried out within the reserve and motorists would be fined if found to be there without the necessary permit.He estimated that annual revenue earned from the permits – which are available from the neighbouring Pine Lodge holiday resort – totalled between R400,000 and R500,000.Sanccob Eastern Cape manager Stacey Webb said staff “were not comfortable at all” about the absence of access control and security at the gate.“There are times when we have to come and feed birds in the middle of the night. The lack of guards really increases risk for us.”Webb said visitors who paid for the permits to enter the reserve deserved to be secure there.She said the environment there was also now at heightened risk. “This area was very well known for perlemoen poaching, so there is increased risk around this as well.“We have small buck and other animals in the reserve which are also at risk from illegal hunting.”She revealed that a German couple had been robbed in the reserve within the past month when their car was broken into while they were walking in the reserve.