The unbeatable war on the Cape Flats

While civilians in Syria are being wiped out in civil war, Sudan and South Sudan continue their decades-old fight over oil regions and Israeli extremists continue to expel Palestinians from the latter’s homelands, Cape Town is fighting its own war. More specifically, the Cape Flats is fighting a war that would probably never end. Ever. Especially not when politicians find this as a means to boost their political ambitions. This is the war on drugs and gangsterism.

Over recent years I have spoken to heartbroken mothers whose children are/were drug addicts. With tears in their eyes many said they would rather see their children dead than drug-crazed. One Mitchells Plain mother nearly stabbed her son with a scissors after he tried to rape her.

I’ve spent many days in Hanover Park, Manenberg, Bonteheuwel, Lavender Hill and other gang hotspots where people living there expressed their frustration at how rapidly gangsterism is spreading. They are always claiming that ward councillors and all the spheres of government are doing nothing.

The worst is speaking to a mother whose husband is in and out of Pollsmoor and her children as young as 12 are recruited in gangs. As an outsider your first reaction may be that it’s just a case of all-round bad parenting. Others may suggest rehabilitation or that children should just not engage with the wrong people. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. Believe me when I say that gangsterism is really quite a complex issue.

The City of Cape Town boasts of so many interventions it has in place to curb gangsterism. The latest one set to be piloting in Hanover Park is Operation Ceasefire, a Chicago-based initiative meant to contain violence. After the first gunshot sounds, community members appointed as Violence Interrupters, who are known by neighbours and gangsters, must try to steer the situation into a direction where rival gangs would not retaliate. This is said to have halved gun violence in Chicago.

It’s all good and well to implement programmes that directly combat gang violence. But without addressing the root causes, you’re fighting a losing battle. Yes, local and provincial governments have sport and recreational activities for children in impoverished communities to keep them occupied. Yes, there are job creation programmes – it may not pay much but it does still pay. And yes, there are continuous drug raids and arrests in all the gang hotspots.

The rate at which gangsterism is spreading far outweighs the number of programmes government implements. While children are being raised in poverty because of vast unemployment, becoming a gang member will always be a temptation. As the children of the veteran gangsters become teenagers they are forced into the gang that is their father’s rival. If they don’t join they could end up dead. In the end, father and son who now belong to rival gangs live the rest of their lives hunting each other down. A leader of a well known gang on the Cape Flats once explained in painful detail how a rival gang beat his son to a pulp until he joined them. Each time gang wars reach their peak, flesh and blood shoot on each other.

All too often, when speaking about their rivals, gang bosses will tell you “sit ons almal op ‘n veld, dan sal ons vir hulle klaar maak,” (put us all on a field and we will finish them all off). While children are increasingly becoming involved in gangsterism, some leaders say they have had enough. No matter how badly they want to leave this lifestyle behind, they can’t. They are the young ones’ fatal targets.

Earlier in the year when war once again broke out on the Cape Flats and when residents lived in fear daily, the Western Cape Department of Community Safety launched an appeal to the national police ministry to have the army deployed to curb the violence. At a time when several innocent people, including children, already lost their lives in cross-fire, national government didn’t see the problem to be serious enough to deploy additional resources. The way I see it, only more deaths would have seen that the defence force is deployed.

Last week, in the wake of the Marikana saga, President Jacob Zuma announced the army would now be assisting the police with their work, a decision welcomed by the Western Cape government. It is still not yet known if the army will be deployed in the gang-ridden areas.

So while the war rages on on the Cape Flats, politics will always stand in the way of finding real, tangible solutions. Politicians’ decisions are made to further their own careers, always to the detriment of the poor, the helpless and the oppressed.

Originally published here.

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