It’s been more than three months since Carol Fisher has left her home, other than to go to the hospital. The 58-year-old Bonteheuwel woman says the relentless gang violence has turned the neighbourhood into a prison for her and other terrified residents.
Ms Fisher and other residents ventured out of their homes on Tuesday last week and spoke about the misery they endure as MEC for Community Safety Dan Plato visited the area.
“This is the first time I come out in three or four months,” said Ms Fisher, who has lived in the area for ten years. “The only time I leave the house is if I have to go to the hospital, but other than that, we can’t come out. We took our children out of a school here and put them in a school in Athlone because of this violence. They take private transport, and it is very expensive to put them in those schools. Their parents can’t cope, but they have to, otherwise what’s going to become of the children here?”
During his walk-about, Mr Plato urged the neighbourhood’s youth to stay away from drugs and crime and, instead, make something of themselves. He said they could ask the City for help when applying to tertiary institutions.
He told parents to stop covering up for their children if they were gangsters.
“It is very important for us to look at what is happening in the area, so that we don’t just leave it up to the community to address but that we, as government, come and show our face to see what else we can do to deal with gangsterism on the flats. Many people lost their lives in Bonteheuwel already. We tried to prevent that, and that’s why we have the walk-about, for the gangsters and drug lords to hear our message.”
He didn’t expect to eradicate gangsterism with one walk through the neighbourhood. “On the other hand,” he added, “my message is clear, police must continue to arrest … police must come down very very hard on those supplying the drugs and the guns. That is where the problem lies. Our jails are full, full of small fry: the runners, the guy with one packet of drugs. The police need to get to the suppliers – that is where the problem lies,”
Easier said than done, say the residents who feel it will take a lot more than one politician’s visit to the strife-torn neighbourhood to ease the gnawing fear they have for their children’s safety.
Ms Fisher wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t think the MEC will help. When they’ve gone here, they will shoot here. When Modderdam High comes out, they will start shooting, in all the roads in all directions. The community knows who they are, because it is their children. Most of these people know who shoots by name, but they are scared most of the time because if they can’t get in your house, they get your children outside, or they run over your roof to get into your place, and they shoot your dogs. We lost two dogs here in our yard.”
Her children are not allowed to play outside. It seems the most important lesson a child can learn in Bonteheuwel isn’t ABC or 1,2,3. It’s how to take cover when the shooting starts.
“I open my gates and let the children run into my place if they shoot like that. Sometimes people come from schools with their little ones, then I open the gate for them to run in. When our children come out of school, they are not allowed to play outside. It’s dangerous to even fetch them from the schools. We tell them at home and at school that if there is shooting and they can run into someone’s place, they must run in, don’t run this way or that way, run into a house or a shop.”
Ismail Salie, 42, wants the army to be sent into the area. “When they start shooting, we can’t do anything, we must just run into our houses. When they start shooting, the children were taught by the police that they must stay in their houses because they are killing innocent people. Why must they fight with each other? It’s not good to be here, our lives are in jeopardy. A bullet can hit anybody, anytime. Send in the army, they get paid to do protect us.”
Koelsim Sulayman, has lived in Bonteheuwel for 34 years – this is the worst things have ever been, she says.
“We feel like prisoners, we must just be inside, our children as well. We must lock up, why? All the years we didn’t have to do that. Why must we do it now? We didn’t need to be scared. We sent our children to school, but not anymore because we’re too scared. It’s not right. The children can’t walk alone to school they must walk in groups. We teach our children to come inside when they shoot and close the gates, because it is not safe; our lives aren’t safe. They go to jail and come out tomorrow, because they use the youngsters to do their dirty work knowing that they will get out because they are underage.”
Soraya Etalla, 50, says there has been shooting in the area every day for the last month. Residents huddle in their homes at night listening to the gunfire, wondering who the newly dead and maimed are.
“Every night, we hear gun shots going off. You don’t know who is it. It’s not nice. You are scared for your own children who go out and come in late, because Saturday was the last shooting that I witnessed, and it was also an innocent guy that they shot.
“It’s so sad if you look at the children who are on drugs. They must get to the root of the drugs which is the big bosses upstairs that’s bringing the drugs in. The MEC must be consistent; they mustn’t just come here today, they must be consistent then we will have a gangster-free and drug-free area, but at the moment they come here they get the small fry, but the drugs are still coming in. How’s that possible? Just as you think there’s peace then there’s violence. The people know who the drug lords are. The MEC also knows. The police also know. They raid today and tomorrow business is still going on. The saddest part is that our own people are killing themselves, and somebody upstairs is getting richer – not our people.”