Members of the Saber community wear vests for safety reasons when collecting hazardous nails on the road. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

Saber Community Sweeps Nails From Jakarta's Streets to Save Tires and Lives


OCTOBER 07, 2015

Jakarta. When Abdul Rohim worked as a personal chauffeur in 2010, he was often a victim of ranjau paku  nails left on the road meant to wreak havoc on drivers.

"It's very annoying," he said. "I had to fix my tires almost daily. And many times, I had to buy new ones, which are very expensive."

Ranjau paku is a practice well-known by Jakartans, and thought to be the work of shady repair shops hoping to earn a little bit extra by spreading nails on the street, forcing drivers to replace tires.

This trap is often found on the busier streets of Jakarta, such as Daan Mogot in West Jakarta, KH Hasyim Ashari in Central Jakarta and East Jakarta's Cakung Cilincing.

The Saber community is a group of 30 members from various walks of life all over Jakarta keen to rid the dangerous nails from Jakarta's streets. The word "saber" is derived from "sapu bersih ranjau," the clearing of land mines.

The group received an award from the Jakarta Police for their dedication.

Police awarded Saber a special title — PolMas, derived from "polisi masyarakat" or community police — and equipped the group with the traffic police's neon-yellow vests to be worn will sweeping for nails to provide more safety.

Abdul, still a chauffeur at this time, began to regularly check Jalan Daan Mogot, which he passed every morning. He began to find hundreds of nails, between five and seven centimeters long.

At first, he picked them up by hand before continuing his commute.

Soon, sweeping for nails became part of Abdul's daily routine. He created a tool to help him with the task by attaching a number of refrigerator magnets from his own home to a long piece of string that he would drag across the road.

"I sweep the roads daily from 6 a.m. to a little before eight," he said. "Three times a week, I also sweep the roads  at ba'da Isya [around 7 p.m.] until midnight."

At first, Abdul swept only the areas of his daily commute, but after awhile he noticed that nails can be found on almost any busy street in Jakarta. He then expanded his work to Roxy in West Jakarta and Cideng, Central Jakarta.

Drivers and bike riders would often stop by and offer Abdul food and drink during his sweeping.

"Once, the driver of a Kopaja [public bus] stopped by and gave me a large magnet from his loudspeaker to aid my work," said Abdul.

Abdul's quiet and lonely work attracted the attention of Siswanto, a contractor living around Jalan Daan Mogot, in West Jakarta.

"I often saw him scouring the roads in the evening," said Siswanto. "I got curious and then got to know him."

The 41-year-old began to join Abdul.

"It's a lot tougher when it rains," he said. "But we must not stop, as the perpetrators usually spread more nails when it rains."

During rainy mornings and nights, Abdul and Siswanto would put on their raincoats and continue to clear the streets.

Interestingly, their tireless work touched the heart of a man who was partially responsible for the hazards.

"In 2013, a repairman in Roxy came to me and cried," said Siswanto. "He said that he was touched by what we do and stopped spreading nails on the roads."

According to Siswanto, the same repairman still works in the Roxy area but no longer spreads rusty nails to attract customers.

Unfortunately, not all perpetrators have reacted in the same. Many felt that Abdul and his friends at Komunitas Saber were threatening their livelihood and took action.

“We get a lot of threats and attacks,” said Abdul. “But we will not back down.”

Since 2010, Abdul has been hit seven times by bikers wearing dark helmets as he was scouring the roads for nails. Abdul believes they are likely involved in putting those nails on streets.

"In June, I banged my head on an asphalt road after being hit by a motorcycle," Abdul said. "The biker then pulled over to see how I was doing before speeding off. It was clearly not an accident."

The doctor gave Abdul eight stitches on the back of his head.

"Once, a passing rider hurled a beer bottle at me," said the contractor. "When he saw that it didn't hit me, he stopped and yelled out in exasperation, 'Do you really want to die?' and then sped off."

In spite of the attacks and death threats, both Abdul and Siswanto said they will continue their work.

"Bismillah aja [just say 'In the name of God']," said Siswanto. "When our intentions are purely to help people, Insya Allah [God be willing], God will always protect us."

However, members of the community also take necessary precautions against future attacks. They now wear helmets while sweeping the roads and work in groups of two or three for their own protection. They communicate and arrange sweeping schedules over a BlackBerry Messenger group.

Thirty people are hardly enough to sweep the many roads of Jakarta. The Saber community is always in need of new members. However, these new members should first get approval from their own families to do this thankless and life-threatening voluntary work. Upon realizing the risks, many of their new members have walked out.

"No one can guarantee your safety when you're working on the road," said Abdul. "And no one will cover your medical expenses if you get attacked and hurt."

A number of perpetrators, whom the community caught red-handed and brought to the police, were sentenced several months to a year in prison. After being released, these perpetrators soon returned to their dishonest practices.

"I really hope that the government will soon give maximum sentences to the ranjau paku perpetrators," said Siswanto. "Because what they do is lethal for others."

Meanwhile, you can learn to protect yourself against nails when riding a motorbike.

"Drive less than than 25 kilometers per hour in areas where nails are often found," Abdul said.

Follow Abdul's twitter account, @rohim_saber, to get an update of the ranjau paku areas in Jakarta. Facebook: Komunitas Saber Twitter: @rohim_saber