Violent thugs and relentless shootings terrorise the Vygieskraal shanty town, say residents who are calling for a safer community with proper houses.
At a meeting, organised by the Athlone police, in the community last week, residents said they feared being hit by a stray bullet whenever they went to fetch water or use an outside toilet, and it was too dangerous for their children to play outside.
“They kick our doors down and rob people by gunpoint. They are shooting all times of the day. This has been going on since 2019. We want to sign a petition because Athlone police is not doing anything to help us,” said Mischka Chachu, who has lived in the settlement for 20 years.
“People get arrested, and they are released the next day. Innocent people are being killed every day and leave their young children behind. Gangsters living in the RDP houses are shooting at the boys here. I sent my son to live with his father because I am scared of him falling into gangsterism. I don’t want him to end up like that. It’s not right for us to live like this. We need houses.”
Residents said shootings in the area had intensified and were now happening day and night.
A woman, who declined to be named saying she feared for her safety, said there was a lot more drug dealing happening in the area than when she moved there 20 years ago and it was fuelling violence as gangs fought over turf.
“I can’t raise my kids in this environment. Some of our children end up in gangs. I don’t know when we will get our houses. I can’t take this anymore. Will we get our houses when we are in our graves?
“Gang violence between formal housing and informal housing residents has been so bad. They start shooting early in the morning until they kill people. The police come, but they shoot in front of the police.
“Residents are angry with police so they throw stones at their vans. The police are not doing anything. It is very bad here; our kids are traumatised and not safe.
“We cannot have a neighbourhood watch or a community police forum because it is not safe – they will shoot us.
“Today it is quiet because there is one van patrolling here, but as soon as the van goes away, it will start again.
“When they shoot, I don’t know what to do. We must hide ourselves in our shack, we must lie down.”
Ward councillor Aslam Cassiem said the residents were caught in a violent conflict between the Young Americans and Ugly Americans gangs, and they needed to know how the police planned to bring calm to the area.
Athlone police station spokeswoman Sergeant Zita Norman said patrols in and around the settlement had been increased, and residents could give anonymous tip-offs if they feared retribution from criminal elements.
The police could also help with registering children who were not at school, as the school environment offered some refuge, she said.
Most of the children at the settlement were of school-going age, but they had dropped out because of the shooting in the area, she said.
“Children deserve an education and a safe upbringing.”
In the meantime, she added, the police were following up leads and investigating the shootings.