‘Hear our call, see our plight’

Hanover Park residents are mobilising in various ways to get the authorities to end the scourge of gang violence, which has claimed many young lives.

On Wednesday April 5, the Hanover Park Women’s Development Forum arranged a meeting between Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen and mothers who have lost their children to gang violence.

The meeting emphasised that people’s basic human rights were being violated, especially their freedom of movement and right to life.

The mothers appealed to Mr Nissen to help them with their right to justice, in relation to the pending court cases around their children’s deaths.

The forum chairwoman, Muriel George, said that her organisation felt marginalised because it got no government funding for its work.

The forum, launched in 2002, is an umbrella body for women’s clubs, non-profit and non-governmental organisations in Hanover Park. It runs several crime prevention initiatives and helps to empower women.

Emotions ran high as community activist Lesley Muller asked nine women to stand and told Mr Nissen that all of them were mothers whose young children had died because of violence.

Pointing to the mothers, Ms Muller said: “This is unacceptable. What is happening right now, is demonic.”

Some of the women shared their frustration about the court cases, and said they feared that justice for their children’s deaths might escape them.

Kashiefa Mohammed’s wound is still very raw. Her son, Raffiq, 17, was stabbed to death on her birthday, Sunday March 19. Ms Mohammed has been a community worker for 25 years – she serves on the Philippi Community Police Forum (CPF) and has served as CPF Sector 2 chairperson, as well as task team chairperson.

“Raffiq was an ordinary 17-year-old, who was in Grade 10 at Crystal High School. He was not rude, and he was a not problem for the community. His death rocked the community. He was a humble child, loved by many. Four suspects were arrested for his death. I know one should not question God, but I could not help to do that after my son was killed. I want justice for my child’s death,” Ms Mohammed said.

Mr Nissen promised the mothers that the Human Rights Commission would help them, and he encouraged those who had expressed concern about irregularities around court cases to report their concerns to his office, so they could be investigated.

It was also explained to the residents that the Human Rights Commission, like the public protector and the Commission on Gender Equality, were Chapter 9 institutions, which meant they operated independently of government.

Weldon Cameron , the secretary of the Philippi CPF, said having the human rights commissioner in Hanover Park was like a ray of hope.

“The commission is an independent body that can hold the police to account, when it comes to the status of investigations. There is a lot of mistrust of police officers among the community. The gathering today confirms that the community is putting pressure on the authorities to act, as they are tired of standing at grave sites every Saturday.

“I must also add, that there has been a concerted effort by the police. For all the murder cases in the month of March, all suspects, except for one, have been arrested. The attempted murder cases for the month of March, look similar, with only two arrests that still have to to be made.

“However, more manpower is needed to solve all cases. As the CPF, we will go to court and make presentations to prosecutors to ask that bail be denied for the suspects,” Mr Cameron said.

The following day, on Thursday April 6, a small group of Hanover Park residents protested against the killing of young children in Hanover Park. The group of about 15 parents and children stood in Hanover Park Avenue in the hope of getting a message across to the community that gang violence was not okay and should not be viewed as a “normal” occurrence in the area. The week before, a different group of more than 50 people had protested in the area.

Resident Shadia Khan said the children who came out to protest with their parents were the ones who are mostly affected by the gang violence, as gang crossfire often occurred on the field in Hanover Park Avenue, which meant that the children had nowhere to play. Ms Khan said the main aim of the protest was to make the rights of children known to their parents.

“Maybe by doing this, (we will encourage them to) change because these gangsters have children as well,” she said.

And, referring to a series of posters she had made to highlight gang violence in the area, she added: “One of the posters says ‘what if my dad shoots me?’ Will that be seen as gang-related or murder?”

“We can’t keep allowing this to happen. It’s not right. The councillors don’t help us either. We invite them to protests and meetings and they don’t come.

“These are the future leaders of our area. So, by killing them you are actually killing our communities because you are taking young lives. It’s time that government steps up. The community does communicate with them as requested, but nothing gets done,” she added.

Ward 47 councillor Antonio van der Rheede, however, denied he had been informed about any protests in the area. “There are procedures that need to be followed before having a protest and if those processes were followed I would have known about it.

“I have not been informed of any protests against crime. I always play my role and partake in marches against crime,” he said.

Another resident, Yasir Pearce, said many innocent victims were affected by the gang violence and that government and law enforcement agencies needed to step up to protect young children.

“The government has failed us so far,” he said.

“Everybody is affected by this. We are being confronted by this on a daily basis and kept hostage in our homes. Our children cannot play freely because shooting can occur any time of the day and we have to run out and fetch them from the streets.”

Mr Pearce added that young boys were being recruited into gangs. “We’ve been marching and protesting for years now and nothing is being done about it because government turns a blind eye,” he said.

Ms Khan told Athlone News that the shooting in the area flared up again on Saturday April 8.

Police did not respond to Athlone News’ queries by the time this edition went to print.