Quoting struggle icon and former president Nelson Mandela at the launch of the anti-gang unit in Hanover Park last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the crowds that “education is the only weapon we have to get out of poverty.”
The anti-gang unit, which has been operating in the area for about a month already, was launched at the Downsberg sport field in Hanover Park on Friday November 2.
Under the leadership of Major-General Andre Lincoln, it will comprise 95 members.
Before the official proceedings, President Ramaphosa walked through Hanover Park, with residents seated behind fencing on the outskirts of the field as they watched the proceedings, which included the handover of at least 50 brand-new bulletproof BMWs which would be used in the fight against crime.
Colonel Dawood Laing, station commander of Philippi SAPS, in whose jurisdiction Hanover Park falls, said the unit would be integrated into the existing police force and would investigate all gang-related cases. He added that, in the past year, the number of gang-related murders had decreased by 20%. Colonel Laing said the launch of the anti-gang unit came as a relief because children as young as 11 years old were being recruited by gangs.
“They target youth from the ages of 11, 12, or 13 and target those who have already showed signs of rebellion against their parents by bunking school and standing on the corners.
Colonel Laing said they are offered the safety of a gang, financial security, acceptance, clothing, and later money,”
Describing gangsters as “heartless criminals”, President Ramaphosa said gang violence had stripped communities of their safety, security, peace, and children. “You have been living under siege from heartless criminals who have no regard for human life.
“Gang violence has robbed you of your children. Many of your young girls and women have been raped and a number of your children killed and you have seen the pain of death and experienced it.
“Not only are gangsters involved in murders and attempted murders, but also in rampant criminality which has robbed citizens of their constitutional right to safety,” he said.
The president also called on parents to make sure that their children attended school.
“As I’ve been going around here I’ve been hearing young people saying that they are not going to school anymore. That concerns me because young people belong in school on a school day.
“Be strict and do not comprise on the future of your children. For 12 full years after your child turns 6 and goes to school you as a parent must make sure that that child is in school every day.
“One of these days I’m going to propose that we should have a law that parents who do not insist that their children must be in school will be committing a crime,” he said.
The president said a number of projects needed to be revised to keep youth occupied and away from the cycle of crime and encouraged residents to join community police forums and neighbourhood watches.
“Building safer communities starts with us. The success of the anti-gangsterism strategy relies on our full participation as a people. We call on all South Africans to make the country a better place and end social ills such as substance abuse and have access to drug treatment facilities,” he said.
President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Janine Myburgh, said the recent murder of advocate Pete Mihalik brought home the urgency of dealing with the criminal gangs who were giving Cape Town a dangerous reputation.
“We have a situation where the gangs are out of control and desperate measures are needed.
“Any fatal shooting is bad, but murder in front of a school, women and children shows a complete disregard for society and civilised values. We are dealing with the worst kind of thugs who have taken the law into their own hands and believe they can get away with it. The fact that the victim was a member of the legal profession and that his young son was also shot shows contempt for everything we believe in,” said Ms Myburgh.
“Some of the gangs have been in existence for 50 years, and, clearly, new thinking and new methods are needed. The whole gang scene is so big that it forms an illicit economy, and one of (the) plans is to deprive it of revenue from businesses like the illegal sale of untaxed cigarettes.”
“Gangs not only bring violence into the city and the townships, but they are a corrupting influence. They control territories, and their drug trade destroys lives, and they go out of their way to get people addicted and turn them into desperate customers. Once the gangs have been dealt with, people will feel safer, and the city will be a more welcoming place,” she said.