The unbeatable war on the Cape Flats

September 28, 2012

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.


Battle of Hangberg

September 28, 2012

A 5-part feature myself and a colleague did in 2010 after clashes broke out in Hangberg over housing. Each part focused on something different that affects the community such as housing, education and crime. This feature won the Vodacom Journalist of the Year award provincially and nationally in the Community Media category.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

South Africa Activist Braam Hanekom Helps Refugees

September 28, 2012

A feature I did for Deutche Welle’s World Link programme on activist Braam Hanekom.

Originally produced for Deutsche Welle.

South African neighborhood turns purple

September 28, 2012

Lavender Hill is one of the areas in Cape Town, South Africa with a serious gang problem and the highest unemployment rate. Subsequently, there are many cases of drug abuse and domestic violence. Marcelle van Zyl started a project in the area called Lavender in Lavender Hill. The idea is to keep the youth off the street and create employment opportunities by cultivating lavender and making soaps, teas and oils with the plant. The project started last year, but is lacking funds and therefore cannot employ more than five people at the moment. But Marcelle is working hard to keep the initiative going, as it is impacting positively on the community.

Originally produced for Deutsche Welle.

Islamic Relief’s 67 minutes

July 18, 2012

Islamic Relief spent their 67 minutes for Mandela Day handing out much-needed items to some of their Mitchells Plain beneficiaries. For the first time ever I nearly cried while interviewing someone. The second interview was done with Wardah Jacobs, who told me her very sad story. There are so many out there who are in the same situation.

“My daughter comes home A’s and B’s. She wants to be an accountant. How do I tell her she can’t ever be one because I am struggling?”

Staying safe in SA is pretty hard sometimes

June 25, 2012

South Africa is notorious for brutal crime. Murder, rape, hijacking, armed robbery – you name it, we’ve experienced it in high volume. There are a number of contributing factors to the high crime rate. With an economy that is causing more jobs to be lost than created, people will do anything to simply fill the gnawing hunger they can’t seem to escape from.

Politicians thrive on poverty – that’s how they stay in business. Every election period gigantic promises are made, the masses who are the poor believe what they are told and yet again services are not delivered. Politicians need people to vote for them, and you are more likely to do so when you feel that it is something your life depends upon. However, people do not get what they are promised, poverty increases and naturally so does crime.

It’s unfair, to say the least, that those who have worked their entire lives for everything they’ve got must be raped, hijacked or murdered for their belongings because our politicians are too engrossed in corruption and absorbing the country’s resources for their personal benefit, than to take care of the poor.

On Friday evening before 7pm a friend and I were victims (perhaps “survivors” is a better word) of a “smash and grab” on Vanguard Drive in Cape Town which is notorious for such incidents. In a matter of seconds – but what felt like a lifetime – a man smashed the passenger window and grabbed my friend’s bag, but she clung to it, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of taking her personal belongings. Back and forth they struggled with the bag while we were screaming, and for as long as I live I will never forget the way he scrunched his face as he pulled the bag with force. Never will I forget the look in his eyes as he glared at us – murderous. Thankfully I managed to get the car into gear and sped off. There’s no telling what would have happened had I not been next to the yellow lane.

Metro cops at the next intersection escorted us to Phillipi East police station, where they outright refused to help us because the scene of the crime was “out of our area” – a lazy officer’s favourite words. I was horrified by their nonchalant attitude. They directed us, two women, to the satellite police station in Samora Machel which is probably the most dangerous township in Cape Town where murder is pretty much the norm. I was not going to risk my life a second time and decided against reporting it at the time. I nearly had to beg an officer to escort us to our next location.

Now tell me again… why is crime such an increasing problem in our society? I do believe the way the police treated us was not an exception. It seemingly happens often. What is the world coming to when you cannot rely on the police to protect its citizens? What will the state of our already-ailing nation become?

Unless there is a complete overhaul of management of the police force, and unless our men in blue are paid decent salaries, there will continuously be acts of mob justice and general violent crime.  When passion exudes from within you when doing your job, you will always be your best at it. And with our politicians only thinking of their own pockets by not creating jobs and alleviating poverty, we are in for a very bleak future.

It angers me that it has become okay for criminals to harm us and take from us. Oh, how I long for the day where I can walk on the beach, in the shopping mall or even down the road from my house without having to constantly look over my shoulder, frightened that I may be kidnapped, raped or murdered for a worthless cell phone or just a few coins.

A hungry man is an angry one. ~Buchi Emecheta

This article was originally published here.

Sanzaf launches Operation Winter Warmth

June 12, 2012

The South African National Zakah Fund distributed winter packs (beanie, scarf, gloves) to 1078 needy learners at Levana Primary School which is situated in the impoverished community of Lavender Hill. Many children at the school live at the Vrygrond informal settlement. The school’s headmaster, Ivor Nober said the amount of children dependent on the school’s feeding scheme is increasing. Meanwhle, Sanzaf also says the appeals for aid is on the rise, with many “middle-class” families now becoming recipients.