The whole neighbourhood came together to stop the fire from spreading. They ran around with buckets of water to put out the smaller fires that were being lit by the flying sparks. The fire engines came within half an hour, and took over. The fire was soon under control, but only after the roof had fallen in and the building was a hollow shell. Mandla wouldn’t be coming back here.

The old woman, who introduced herself as Ma Patiwe, invited them back to her house across the street for a cup of sweet, milky tea. They sat in her kitchen with her. Ma Patiwe was good at putting people at ease, and her tea was a great healer. Soon everyone had calmed down enough to talk.

“I’m just a neighbour,” said Ma Patiwe. “I run the local spaza down the street. I’ve spent my whole life trying to organise the community to protect ourselves from these criminals. For years I’ve tried. I even managed to buy walkie-talkies and torches so we could do a proper street patrol at night, but they kept getting stolen. And some people didn’t like what I was doing. Yoh! The threats I get! But I keep trying.”

“Who were those guys?” asked Sbu. “The boys who threw the brick through the window?”

The guy who had rescued them had stayed outside to help fill buckets and put out fires.

“They’re just boys from this street,” said Ma Patiwe. “They knew what this house was being used for, so when they saw you there, they thought you must be a criminal, too. They’re not bad boys. They’re just standing up against crime the only way they know how.”

Sbu thanked Ma Patiwe, and told her his side of the story, that he thought he was just visiting his uncle’s new business, and how it had turned ugly.

“Well,” she said after he finished. “It is a shame we couldn’t stop them. But I don’t think your uncle will be back here. Not for a while.”

Sbu agreed. But something his uncle had said was still troubling him. Something about his father.

Image: Andy Cross, CC-BY-NC

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Does your community have a neighbourhood watch or any other kind of crime-prevention scheme? Do you think they help reduce crime?