People pray for peace

Seven churches and the Abakhululi Prison Ministries walked the streets of Athlone to pray for an end to gang violence and drug abuse. Here, the group stops to pray.

With the school holidays approaching, Athlone SAPS has called on residents to do their bit to keep children safe.

Although gang violence has subsided in the area, Athlone SAPS spokeswoman Sergeant Zita Norman says this does not mean residents can let their guard down.

On Saturday June 1, the Church of God Penticostal, Athlone Baptist Church, Pinkster Protestante Kerk, Christian Mission, God’s People Christian Centre in Heideveld, Jira Ministries in Bonteheuwel and the Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Athlone, together with the Abakhululi Prison Ministries, held a prayer walk from Athlone police station to the parking lot in front of the Athlone train station, where an open air church service was held.

Former gang members also spoke of how they got out of a life of crime. The group was also supported by AthCraw Neighbourhood Watch.

Sergeant Norman said extra police deployment had helped to quell a resurgence of gang violence in Bokmakierie

“Due to police visibility, the gang violence has subsided. We only had one shooting incident over the weekend, where a door was damaged, but no-one was hurt. We welcome any initiative to keep gang violence at bay, and prayers are always welcome.

“We urge the community to continue to report any criminal activities. With the school holidays coming up, our children’s safety is paramount,” Sergeant Norman said.

Ringo Beukes, 52, from Parkwood, was one of those who shared their stories.

He got involved with the “wrong crowd” at the age of 14, and by the time he was 16 he was in jail.

“I was attracted by the flashy cars and the lifestyle of the gangsters and I also wanted that. From the age of 16, I was in and out of prison spanning over 35 years. I served time for crimes such as armed robbery, and house break-ins. When I made a decision at the age of 42 to change my life, I gave my heart to the Lord. At the time, my life was not less difficult, because although I changed my life, my children still needed to eat. The adaptation was not easy. Now, 10 years later, I work full-time in the church ministry as an evangelist,” Mr Beukes said.

As a former 28s gang member, Robert Young, 54, has been between prison walls for 26 years.

“I spent 32 years of my life doing crime. My wife had left me, and things were just spiralling out of control. The very first time I came to church, I gave my heart to the Lord. I immediately changed my life, and I started praying for my marriage. After a 10-year separation, my wife and I reconciled. Today I am a programme facilitator at Pollsmoor prison, a musician, comedian, and motivational speaker, among others,” Mr Young said.

Evangelist Daniel Abrahams called on all churches to unite against what he calls this “spiritual warfare”.

“Everybody just started to accept the bad things that are happening in our area. As the community, we need to bring the change… One of the things that stood out for me about the testimonies, is that many of them could have been saved from a life of crime if parents did not cover up their children’s criminal activities,” Mr Abrahams said.