Peace talks

HAZEL ALLIES-HUSSELMAN

After peace negotiations between the Hard Livings, Americans and Clever Kids on Sunday April 17, Manenberg has been “quiet”, but the situation remains tense.

This is how Manenberg SAPS spokesman Lieutenant Ian Bennett described the area on Monday April 18.

The community has been gripped in fear for weeks now, as gang violence spiralled out of control, leaving at least 15 people dead.

Lieutenant Bennett said the reinforcements which had been deployed to quell the violence, were still in the area.

“The area is being monitored daily. Among the resources we received, is an SAPS national task force, and not the army, as some people assumed.

“We are keeping a close eye on the peace, as it could mean that the gangs ran out of bullets, or that they are not making any money off their illegal drug trade,” Lieutenant Bennett said.

School safety remains a big concern in the community, as schools are often in the front-line of gang wars.

Education MEC Debbie Schäfer expressed her concerns about the gang violence, saying: “When there are reports of violence taking place in a certain area, schools implement their safety plan. In terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85/1993, every school must have a safety plan that meets local requirements, and a committee responsible for implementing the plan.

“During an incident of gang violence or trespassing, the Safe Schools call centre ensures that the relevant authorities are alerted to deal with gang intimidation and threats and gang shootings in and around the school.

“In recent events, schools in Manenberg and Bonteheuwel have followed their safety plans and alerted the authorities to the imminent threat outside the school gates. In most cases, if the SAPS responded, one vehicle and one police officer would arrive, which is simply not adequate to deal with five to 10 armed gang members.

“Schools and the department have repeatedly request-ed additional police visibility around schools. However, visibility has been minimal, and sporadic.

“The ongoing scourge of gangsterism plaguing our schools has to stop. In the past, a strong police presence has helped to minimise the number of incidents reported. However, how can our police increase visibility when they are highly under-resourced?”

Teachers at Silverstream Primary are also not celebrating this peace yet. The school is on the edge of the turf of rival gangs and has generally been out of the firing line in the past, but on Friday April 15 pupils

and staff were traumatised when an alert was sounded on the school bell.

Nazla Matthews, who has been teaching at the school for two years now, said: “The problem with all this violence, is that it is perceived to be normal.

“How can schools function normally when children are coming late to school and can’t concentrate because of the violence?

“As part of our safety plan at school, the children were told to lie on the floor when the school bell is sounded three times. Our children are on high alert.

“On Friday, I did not even realise the bell was sounding three times, and they heard it. This is not right. We phoned the police, but they never came. We feel the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) can do more for us. It’s like we are all on our own here. I’ve read about the violence in Manenberg in newspapers before, but I never realised how bad it is, until I experienced it first-hand. Today (Monday April 18) there is an eerie silence.”

Her colleagues agree, saying they protested about the same concerns two years ago.

Teacher Grant Adonis said Manenberg teachers had presented a safety plan to the WCED in February 2014, but it had not been implemented effectively.

In August 2013, the Athlone News reported on a teachers’ protest sparked by fears for their safety. It saw 14 schools closed and 12 000 pupils kept home for two days (“Call to face violence head on,” Athlone News, August 21, 2013). At the time, frustrated and scared Manenberg teachers reported to the Western Cape Education Department’s metro office in Maitland for the two days, instead of reporting for duty at their schools. According to Mr Adonis, it was during this time that a safety plan for all Manenberg schools was drawn up.

“It is sad that some teachers have become desensitised by all this violence. School safety should be a priority. Two years ago, we presented a plan to the department, which included having the police stationed at every school. We need to be proactive, and not reactive. We thought that if the violence flared up again, there is a plan to deal with it, but this is not so,” Mr Adonis said.

Teacher Samir Daniels was on the steering committee that came up with a collective safety plan.

“Part of the plan included having Metro police offices at our schools, but this couldn’t be sustained. While they were here, however, their presence was very effective, and, for a while, things subsided a lot. We all have safety drills and have individual safety plans at our schools, but we want the collective safety plan put in place again. The conditions are very stressful for us,” Mr Daniels said.

Ms Schäfer said her department was doing all it could to protect pupils while they were at school, “but we do need the assistance of all stakeholders to ensure their safety”.

She added: “The primary responsibility of dealing with crime lies with the nationally controlled SAPS. It is clear that they are simply not able to cope, given their ongoing under-resourcing.

“I am, however, very aware of the impact gang violence has on our schools, and I am heartened by the strength and commitment many of our teachers who have, during difficult times, ensured that they create a sense of normalcy in their schools, so that teaching and learning continues.”

Premier Helen Zille said the province had previously received figures from SAPS showing a ratio of just one police officer to 504 residents in Manenberg.

“In neighbouring precincts, where violent crime levels are some of the highest in South Africa, there were as many as 777 residents to one officer. The national average is 358:1.

“The City of Cape Town has deployed its law enforcement stabilisation unit to Manenberg and other affected areas. The unit has a record of success in quelling gang violence since its introduction in August 2015, but the support of a well-resourced SAPS is needed,” she said.

While it seems peace has been restored in Manenberg, at least for now, ongoing gang violence is still holding Bonteheuwel residents hostage. The residents are planning a march on Sunday April 24 to protest against the growing drug trade and gang activity in the area.

Judith Kennedy of Bonteheuwel’s Joint Peace Forum, said the community was threatened by random shootings “on nearly a daily basis”. They have called on the residents to join them and other local community organisations in a mass peaceful march through Bonteheuwel and Golden Gate (Netreg) on Sunday April 24, from 2pm.

“The march will start outside the multi-purpose centre and will stop at Freedom Square, where a memorandum will be handed over to the police commissioner, Lieutenant General Khombinkosi Jula. Let us represent in numbers and remind SAPS and gang elements that our lives matter. The order and safety of the community will be organised by SAPS and trained marshals,” Ms Kennedy said.

On Tuesday April 12, the SAPS Nyanga Cluster, which includes police stations in Bishop Lavis, Phillipi-East, Manenberg, Nyanga, Elsies River and Gugulethu, followed up information and searched a house in Assegaai Road, Bonteheuwel, where they found an R5 rifle, and 35 rounds of R5 ammunition, two bullet-proof jackets and dagga. One arrest was made.