A week of protests

Taxi drivers blocked Bluegum Road, one of the entrances into Bonteheuwel, in protest of all the gang violence that affects their business.

“People don’t want to protest against gangsterism, so now the community is having a protest in the form of a mass boeka, for peace and unity.”

So said Nadia Mayman De Grass, spokesperson for the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (JPF).

The area has been gripped in the vicious cycle of gang violence over the past few months, and instead of planning more anti-gang marches and meetings, the community decided to have a mass boeka on Saturday June 9.

Ms Mayman De Grass said her community was inspired to do this, following the examples set by Bo-Kaap and Manenberg residents – both areas used this Muslim tradition of the breaking of the fast during Ramadaan to have peaceful protests.

“We are a collective of civic organisations from Bonteheuwel, and we are calling on our community to join us for an interfaith, mass open street, bring and share boeka, as our protest action, to restore the peace and dignity of our beautiful, bountiful Bonteheuwel. This protest is for the healing of Bonteheuwel, and for our youth to rise,” she said.

Bishop Lavis SAPS spokesperson, Ettienne Conradie, said although murder and attempted murder stats showed a decrease in the area, there had been an increase in sporadic shootings during the month of May.

On Wednesday May 30, taxi drivers, frustrated that gang violence affected their livelihoods, blocked off Bluegum Road, which is one of the entrances to Bonteheuwel.

Earlier that day, Riyaaz Abrahams, 24, was pulled from a taxi by rival gang members and shot several times. He died on the scene. This incident led to the taxi drivers’ decision to protest by blocking off the road.

“The blocking of the road caused chaos at the time. Taxi owners have since met with station commander, Brigadier Christopher Jones. The taxi owners and drivers have also had a meeting and since Friday June 1, no incidents have been reported,” Captain Conradie said.

A representative of the Bonteheuwel Taxi Association (BTA) executive, who did not want to be named, said people were too scared to get into their taxis because of the shootings.

“People had to witness how this man was dragged out of the taxi and killed. The people live in constant fear – they are at risk of getting robbed or gangsters target the taxi drivers to pay ‘tax’. The main concern though, is the shootings,” the representative said.

The BTA planned to have a meeting to find a solution, and would announce when they would host a public meeting.

Bishop Lavis Community Police Forum (CPF) chairperson, Graham Lindhorst, said the only way gang violence could be quelled, was to have more resources available.

He acknowledged Police Minister Bheki Cele’s initiative to deploy more police officers at Bishop Lavis SAPS, but said it might not make much of a difference.

“There are some new officers, but, if for example, there are 20 new officers at a station, this would mean only five of them will be added per shift, as there are four shifts. So even though it might look like a lot, it is not enough. Beefing it up with a few extra officers per shift won’t do the trick,” Mr Lindhorst said.

Meanwhile, Ms Mayman De Grass said protests, like the mass boeka, and the cleaning up of Bonteheuwel train station, were alternative ways of spreading the same message they would have during a meeting.

Volunteers of the International Peace Youth Group (IPYG), residents and Metrorail worked together to clean up Bonteheuwel station, in the hope of creating a lasting culture of peace at the station.

The station is near a widely known “crime hot spot” and early morning commuters are targeted.

The “Peace My City” campaign involves government, non-government organisations (NGOs) and communities partnering to identify conflict areas within society and then working together to transform them into safe areas called “Peace Zones” through their collaborative efforts.

The mass boeka on Saturday will be held from the traffic circle at the Catholic Church, down Jakkalsvlei Avenue, until the three-way stop at the Metro police depot. A special programme will precede the boeka, from 4pm to 5.30pm.