Trapped by gang war

Bonteheuwel residents say they are tired of being held hostage in their own homes due to the ongoing gang violence.

Eight adults have been shot and killed in the area since January, while 26 adults and three children have been wounded in shooting incidents.

According to Constable Samantha Adonis, Bishop Lavis police station’s spokeswoman, the main cause of the violence is a gang war over drug turf.

While some residents feel that the army should be deployed to the area, community leaders disagree, saying that this was not a solution and that police needed to be better equipped to combat gangsterism.

Residents, most of whom asked to remain anonymous as they feared for their lives, said they had heard gunshots from 6am until the early hours of the next morning.

This, they said, kept them trapped indoors and children could not play outside.

One resident who spoke to Athlone News, lost her 24-year-old son due to gangsterism 16 years ago.

He had been attending the games evening of one of the netball clubs in the area when he was shot and killed, along with two other people inside the house.

His shooter was a well known man in the area who, after serving time in jail and apologising to her, is now a reformed gangster who works as a motivational speaker.

The woman said when the shooter apologised to her, he told her the only reason he had killed her son was that he had been instructed to kill a certain number of people to be part of the gang.

The resident, who has lived in the area for over 30 years, said forgiving her son’s murderer had not been easy but that she had to do it to move on with her life. She said that while some residents felt that deploying the army in the area would eradicate gang violence, it would be a short-term solution.

“They need to do random searches and search every house because every gangster has a house,” she said.

She said the main problem in the area was that parents left their children unprotected and vulnerable to being recruited into gangs.

“When they go to prison their children stay at home and don’t go to school. That is when they are recruited into gangs,” she said.

Having lived in the area for so long, she said, she relives her son’s death every time she hears a gunshot.

She said the only solution was for people to be educated so that they could find good jobs and get out of gangsterism.

Another resident, who has lived in the area for 50 years, agreed with her.

She said what terrified her most was that children who grew up in front of her now ran in the streets with guns. She suggested children who get social grants must reapply for them every six months.

She said when they apply for the grant, the school must fill out a form saying that they actually do attend school.

“Most of the children don’t attend school. So reapplying for the grant will force them to attend,” she said.

She said gang violence prevented her family from visiting her because they were too scared to come into the area. “We don’t even see each other and we live in the same area. We are too afraid to leave our homes.”

She said that people should not blame poverty for getting involved with gangs as a means to feed their families. “You don’t have to go there. The problem is people don’t want to work for their money. They get paid when they kill someone and their parents get a cut. Why do we have to live like this?” she said.

Another resident agreed, saying that the army was not equipped to deal with gangsterism. “They don’t even know who the gangsters are. The police know who they are but they are so under-resourced they can’t get out to our area. The other problem is the people get arrested but they get out the next day and get their guns back. When the army enters Bonteheuwel all they do is run into people’s houses and throw random residents into the van.”

He said people needed to stop using poverty as an excuse for gangsterism.

“People take money from gangsters to remain silent. Nobody’s got principles in this place anymore. They see their children running with guns and they don’t stop them and we can’t say anything or we get targeted,” he said.

The main problem, he said, was that cellphones had become an important tool for gangs. He said that residents warned gangsters via their cellphones when they saw police in the area.

“Then they stand there and wait for the police to come raid their houses because they have cleared everything up already,” he said.

“Innocent people are getting hurt. What must we do to stop this? Children have to crawl under their beds when they hear shooting. We used to wonder how people live in Manenberg with all the shooting, now we know,” he added.

Graham Lindhorst, Bonteheuwel Community Policing Forum (CPF) chairperson, said the CPF had also been against the idea of deploying the army into the area because it was not a long-term solution. The solution, he said, was that police needed to be properly resourced to fight gangsterism because they currently were not.

Mr Lindhorst said more than 10 gangs operated in Bonteheuwel, with smaller gangs being formed at schools. He said the community needed to come together to make sure that youngsters did not fall in the net of gangsterism.

“The community needs to come with up with programmes to keep youngsters away from gangsterism, that is the only solution,” he said.

Ward 50 councillor Angus Mckenzie said he was not in favour of the army being deployed in the area as it had not been a sustainable solution and will add no benefit to communities.

“We need a focused approach that will ensure a long-term solution. We need something sustainable that involves police and the community. Police, however, are so under-resourced and there is general mistrust from the community towards police. Once they are fully resourced, trust will be restored in the police,” he said.

Pastor Mike Seale, secretary of the Bonteheuwel Churches in Action, said the church and police had planned to sit down with gang bosses in the area and speak to them in a spiritual manner because it had helped in the past.

He said that peace in Bonteheuwel was possible.

“The army will not help at this point because then people have curfews and they use live ammunition. On Monday we had a meeting with police to discuss the solutions. Two and a half years ago we also sat down with gang bosses and asked for peace and it was quiet for about seven months and then it flared up again,” he said.

Mr Seale said the main problem was gang turf wars when new gangs came into the area. “The problem here is their spirits, deep down they have a problem so we have to take a spiritual approach. Their family members belong to the church so it makes it easier. They’ve told us before that they also want peace and that they too are tired of the violence.”

Despite repeated requests, Athlone News was unable to get comment on army protocol from the South African National Defence Force by the time this edition went to print.