The power of unity

The Silvertown community gathered in front of known drug dens to say a prayer and to listen to recovering drug addicts, who shared their stories.

While many may question the effectiveness of marches, community leaders in the greater Athlone area say they are as relevant now, as they were in the struggle against apartheid.

Just last week, on Youth Day, marches were held in four communities – Athlone, Bokmakierie, Manenberg and Silvertown.

The Athlone march commemorated fallen heroes of the struggle; the Manenberg march was against school closures and called for the return of the area’s hospital; in Bokmakierie they protested against drug abuse and crime and the march in Silvertown was against the sale and abuse of alcohol and drugs in the community.

Residents from the greater Athlone area also took to the streets when gang violence held them hostage in their community.

Gang violence flared again on Sunday June 19 when 17-year-old Zubair Joemath was killed in Hanover Park while visiting a friend. With the shootings continuing in the face of public outrage, the Athlone News asked community leaders whether holding marches was still an effective way to fight gangsterism.

Judith Kennedy, from the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (JPF), said a march might not necessarily grab the authorities’ attention, but it still had an impact.

“Marches send a clear message to the government, which has the power to change things, as well as letting the gangs know that we have had enough. Ons is gatvol. However, the main thing about a march is that it demonstrates our unity – it strengthens our own resolve.

“With our last march, things have been quiet for a long time. It is now flaring up again, but our march has brought about a few months of peace.

“What we’ve learnt is that people don’t just want to sit in their homes and complain, they want to do something about it. A march takes people from their homes and onto the streets and it demonstrates the power of unity,” Ms Kennedy said.

Roegchanda Pascoe, chairperson of the Manenberg Safety Forum (MSF), agrees that marches demonstrate unity. “Marches help to bring the community together. One of the things that the gangsters prey on is the community’s fear – they want the community to be instilled with fear.

“In Manenberg, there is also the challenge of discord among people from certain parts of the area. It’s an ‘us and them’ situation, but when we have a march, there is no such thing – then we all come together with one voice. Also, I remember when we marched for eight consecutive days against gangsterism, the violence stopped for a while. The beauty of marches is that it connects people and there truly is strength in unity,” Ms Pascoe said.

The Silvertown marchers also walked over to Parktown. In both areas, they stopped outside known drug houses, where they said a prayer, and at every stop, they listened to the stories of how recovering drug addicts overcame their challenges. The event was arranged by religious leaders in Silvertown.

Edgar Carolissen, who addressed the marchers, said they were marching against the sale and abuse of all substances – including alcohol – but also to highlight all the positives in the community, such as the Family Church’s Study Buddies, the Bridgetown Theatre Company, and the substance rehabilitation programmes.

“Today is a peaceful march for positive change. We are not seeking any conflict, and instead ask you to practise the same discipline we expect from others,” Mr Carolissen told the marchers.

The deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), Moulana Abdul-Khaliq Allie, said: “We gather here today to convey a message of mercy to one and all. The gathering is a culmination of our continuous efforts, and we are going to work together collectively to take ownership of our community, and not give in to evil satanic forces. Positive change starts in our homes. United we stand. Enough is enough; and collectively, we can make things happen.”

Tashreeq Nasterdien, 14, from Silvertown, who was among the marchers, said he had come to support the event, as drugs had “become a huge liability”.

“Small children see the adults doing drugs and want to emulate them. This sets off a vicious cycle, but this is not the freedom our fallen heroes died for. I am here to show I am against the drug scourge.”

Shawn May, 44, who told how he had escaped the clutches of drug abuse, said it only took one hit to get him hooked. He has been clean for three years and nine months, after being a drug addict for 18 years.

Athlone Community Police Forum chairperson, Aziza Kannemeyer, said: “Drugs are huge. They cannot be wished away, but the community can do something collectively to stop this scourge. Marches can be effective, but they must be supported in big numbers. Currently, people will utter their support, but don’t want to be seen physically taking part. Most people depend on a few outspoken community leaders who put their necks on the line for something the whole community wants.”