Gangs of well organised, illegal street gamblers have become a common feature on several street intersections throughout the Pretoria CBD, despite the SA Police Service and the Tshwane Metro Police Department patrolling the streets in marked vehicles and on foot.
On Thursday, it was brisk business for the gang of more than 20 gamblers which operates at the intersection of Minnaar and the very busy Paul Kruger Streets leading to the Pretoria main train station.
Weeks of investigation by African News Agency into the gambling groups have revealed that unwitting pedestrians are lured into the games, with promises of a quick financial windfall once they take part in the gambling. Stories abound of pedestrians being robbed of their possessions, including cellphones, once they have “lost” in the gamble.
“It’s as if these street corners are casinos. When the police stop their vehicles, it is either to harass us, hawkers, or to pursue foreigners and demand bribes. It seems as if this gambling is what we have to do for a living because it goes on under the police’s watch,” said Ntando Masango, a father of four, who sells vegetables on the bustling streets.
“Sometimes you cannot understand how the authorities and the police think. Every time the Tshwane metro police chases us down the streets simply because we sell tomatoes and bananas. Along Church Street, women who survive on braiding hair are being persecuted in broad daylight, but prostitutes and gamblers feel very safe to do their business on the street. Even beggars flee from police, but not these gamblers. Is this what we must all do to survive?”
One of the gamblers along Bloed Street, who preferred only to be identified as Naija, said their business was “genuine”.
“If you choose to, then you can play the game. We don’t force anyone to play. There are no jobs across the country and we have to live. People take part in this game willingly so we cannot be accused of stealing. We will continue as you can see different teams play at different locations across the city,” he said.
A pedestrian, James Mangena said the overcrowding caused by the gambling at busy street corners is a cause for concern, as pickpockets and petty criminals are also part of the gamblers.
“Sometimes you lose your phone when you walk past these crowds. They deliberately create confusion and before you know it, you don’t have your wallet. When they entice you to play and you refuse, you can be harassed for that. The tragedy in all this is that you only see police officers flagging down and issuing tickets to motorists. I think our safety as pedestrians is not being prioritised,” said the supermarket assistant.
However, Pretoria central police station spokesperson, Captain Augustine Selepe said crime in the streets of Pretoria was being dealt with holistically.
“Allegations that SAPS is only concentrating on foreigners, hawkers and motorist is untrue. As SAPS we address crime holistically. We often hold joint operations with other law enforcement to address other crime activities. We do arrest illegal gamblers operating within Pretoria CBD, after a day or two they bounce back, but we continuously arrest them,” said Selepe.
“On a monthly basis we do hold sector forum meetings, whereby we engage with the members of the public and address their complaints. We will continue intensifying crime prevention operations focusing on hotspots to address this problem.”
Spokesperson for the TMPD, Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba said the police were aware of the scourge of illegal gambling deepening its roots at the capital city’s intersections.
“We are aware of the gambling taking place in the city, and in the past we used to conduct operations whereby we tried to address this problem. We want to commit that we will continue as the department to conduct such operations jointly with other law enforcement agencies,” said Mahamba.
“We are committed as the department to create a safer city for all residents by dealing with such criminal acts. We warn those who are involved that we won’t rest and we will deal with any criminality and bring the perpetrators to book.”