67 minutes of prayer for peace

Mogamat Benjamin says a prayer. With him is Soraya Salie, chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies and a member of the International Womens Peace Group.

Tears flowed as Bonteheuwel residents spent 67 minutes in prayer for peace in Bonteheuwel on Mandela Day, Monday July 18.

The area has been plagued by gang violence over the past few months.

The interfaith prayer initiative, arranged by the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies (BWL) and the International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG) honoured Nelson Mandela, who, they say, was the epitome of peace.

The area where the gathering was held – on the stoep of a small shopping complex known as Kaybees to the locals – is a known hot spot for gang violence.

According to Soraya Salie, the chairperson of the BWL and a member of the IWPG, at least six people were killed in a short space of time around that block.

Said Ms Salie: “Madiba was a peace-loving person. After spending 27 years in jail, he could have easily declared war, but instead, he promoted peace and reconciliation.”

During her prayer, Ms Salie asked for peace over Bonteheuwel, adding: “We pray that the Almighty instils peace and love in our hearts, as we cannot be peaceful if we don’t have peace in our hearts. We pray that the Almighty forgives all those who cause this agony and lead them on a straight path. Please Lord, remove the evil spirit over Bonteheuwel.”

Pastor Leslie Lambert from the Bonteheuwel Assembly of God prayed against all social evils.

“There are those who thrive on bad news, but today we are declaring the good news. We were born with a purpose, but the devil wants to destroy that. We militate against all evils – drugs, school drop-outs, all forms of crime, gangsterism, families who suffer. Today we stand as one and say: enough is enough. I pray that each one of us become the change we want to see and that parents must stop hiding the evil of their children.”

Lydia Southgate said her friends at the Bonteheuwel Disabled Group, who meet every weekday, put themselves at risk just by walking to the club.

“Most of the club members have intellectual disabilities, making them even more vulnerable to violence.

“Having to deal with the fear of leaving your house and the trauma gang violence causes are a lot for them to deal with. The leaders of the club often have to go out to collect or buy things, and even the women who cook every day for the club. They are all at great risk. Just as every other citizen, or disabled people deserve to have dignity, to live in a safe, peaceful and gun-free neighbourhood. Instead, our community has become fearful, too scared to step out of our homes, and small children get hurt and killed during these shootings,” Ms Southgate said.

Mogamat Benjamin, who also offered a prayer, said he stands in solidarity with all who want a positive change for Bonteheuwel.

“We must continue the struggle, especially for our youth – they deserve their youth and a long life. They must start playing sport again. Our community is known for producing excellent sports people, priests, imams and professors. However, we also have a determined spirit – from the layman to the poorest of the poor. We never give up. Why must our houses look like prisons with our high fencing and burglar gates. Why must we be in our homes by 8pm? We will continue this fight and stand in solidarity.”

Stephen Selbourne, who was among those gathered, said: “We are honouring the legacy of Madiba and stand united against the challenges of our community.”