With gang violence on the rise and young boys being recruited to gangs from as young as eight years old, Bonteheuwel residents have decided to step in so that they don’t lose a generation of youngsters to gangsterism.
For these residents, “your child is my child” are not just words. They are words to live by.
Bonteheuwel resident Miskah Martin, said that residents were fed up with gangsters shooting at each other and innocent people getting hurt. Furthermore, she said, gang members were shooting in front of children who were going through life seeing bodies fall to the ground.
“We are sick of living like this. The boys joining the gangs are getting younger and younger with the youngest being 7 or 8 years old. These children walk around with guns openly and just shoot at each other. It is sad to see children who grew up in front of you join gangs and make nothing of themselves,” she said.
To mobilise support for their efforts, residents called a meeting on Saturday March 13, after the community was once again rocked by shootings.
Ms Martin said that residents agreed that they would make sure that no child was outside after 8pm and that they would look out for each other’s children.
She said children in Bonteheuwel had deep psychological issues which resulted in them joining gangs. Among these were that many grew up without a father figure or with drug addicted mothers, and they often had no or little access to food and other resources.
“So, when they are approached by gangs to join them, they don’t hesitate because they are sorted with everything they never had. They don’t realise that those favours are not free and getting out of the gang is nearly impossible. The gangs know that the children are not going to school every day so they prey on that and approach them on the days they are home,” she said.
Spokesman for Bishop Lavis police station, Warrant Officer Joseph Swartbooi, said that the spate in gang shootings had been over drug turf as gangs fought for land and demarcation to sell drugs.
He said that in the past two weeks four men had been killed in the Bishop Lavis policing precinct and the possibility of gang retaliation was not ruled out.
On Monday March 8, a 30-year-old man was shot and killed on an open field behind Bonteheuwel High School.
On Friday March 12, a 36-year-old man was shot and killed in Cassia Street in Bonteheuwel and the next day a 28-year-old man was shot and killed in Ranunculus Street in Kalksteenfontein. The following day, Sunday March 14, a 23-year-old man was stabbed to death in Jakkalsvlei Drive also Kalksteenfontein.
“As a police station we are deploying resources to the area. The area had been quiet for a month or so and it flared up again due to drug turf between the Americans, Hard Livings, Playboys, and Fancy Boys and in-fighting in the Americans gang.
“We urge the community to come forward with information as they know who the shooters are and where the illegal guns are being stored,” he said.
Ms Martin said residents came forward with information but when police asked them to give their names they refused because they feared victimisation.
“We know what the gangs will do to us and our children and we have to be safe. I really encourage all parents to be hands-on and be alert. Be invested in your children’s lives; see who their friends are and who the families are of those friends, see where they hang out because in less than a minute you can lose your child,” she said.
Another resident, Abie Clayton, said residents were losing hope as the situation became worse, particularly at night when gangs from Kalksteenfontein came over to Bonteheuwel and the shooting started.
Mr Clayton said that boys could not walk around in Bonteheuwel as they were automatically associated with the gang which operated in the area they lived in. This also meant they could not walk in other parts of the area which were part of another gang’s territory.
“Our children and parents are terrified. The situation just gets worse,” he said.
Bonteheuwel ward councillor, Angus McKenzie said the current violence was being fuelled by a drug turf war between the Junky Funky Kids and the Fancy Boys gangs.
“Due to the assistance of the community we have been able to deploy law enforcement and police to known properties and individuals. I want to thank the community for playing such an active role and trusting us with this information; it has most certainly assisted in restoring calm over the last few days,” he said.
Bishop Lavis community police forum chairman, Graham Lindhorst, said religious leaders could help address the social problem plaguing the community.
“We need to try to save our youngsters from a very young age. It won’t be a quick fix and we need to involve all spheres including sport to sway youth from joining gangs. We need to get all the organisations of the area involved. We are very worried about the flare up as we know what can happen,” he said.