Bul­let­proof clinic of hope

To the gang-weary Ma­nen­berg com­mu­nity, their clinic serves as an oa­sis of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional care

CityPress - - News - BIÉNNE HUISMAN bi­enne.huisman@city­press.co.za

Mishka Ti­tus, who suf­fers from bipo­lar dis­or­der, schizophre­nia and epilepsy, vis­its the Ma­nen­berg Clinic to find peace. It’s a strange refuge: the area it is set in is so vi­o­lent that the clinic has bul­let­proof glass win­dows and panic but­tons con­nected to the lo­cal Metro po­lice in its rooms.

Over the past month, 17 sus­pected gang­sters have been shot dead amid a vi­cious turf war.

On Thurs­day Ti­tus, a 36-year-old mother of three, was there again – this time for a preg­nancy test.

“Given my sit­u­a­tion, I am hop­ing that I am not preg­nant again. But God will­ing, you know?”

Ti­tus and her se­cu­rity of­fi­cer hus­band, Moe­nier, and their chil­dren, Mar­i­juan (15), Moza­muel (9) and Maria (3), live in a Wendy house in her mother’s back yard in Renos­ter Walk, a kilo­me­tre away. They sur­vive on dis­abil­ity and child sup­port grants.

On the days when bul­lets and fists fly, Ti­tus can­not get to the clinic. Renos­ter Walk is a point where clashes hap­pen be­tween the Hard Liv­ings and Amer­i­cans gangs, and its in­hab­i­tants are fre­quently forced to hide in their homes.

On Wed­nes­day, just down the road in Jor­dan Street, a Hard Liv­ings boss was shot and killed.

“When there are shoot­ings, I am scared to walk to the clinic, be­cause those bul­lets can hit any­one. I fear for my chil­dren and for my life,” says Ti­tus.

“I go to the clinic of­ten for my chil­dren, as they are asth­matic. I also go to speak to the sis­ter about my prob­lems. When I leave there, I al­ways feel like a bet­ter per­son.”

Ma­nen­berg is home to about 61 000 peo­ple, most of whom live in coun­cil flats and semide­tached homes. Fam­i­lies sleep hud­dled in their pas­sages, away from glass win­dow­panes that shat­ter when bul­lets hit them.

But the Ma­nen­berg Clinic, with its neat face-brick façade and tall, barbed wire-topped fence, is an is­land of refuge.

Up to 200 pa­tients flock there ev­ery week­day – in­clud­ing up to 80 chil­dren – seek­ing treat­ment and so­lace. The clinic of­fers ba­sic health checks, an­te­na­tal ser­vices and, on Mon­days, TB treat­ment.

When City Press ar­rived on Thurs­day, a se­cu­rity guard asked us to park in front be­cause cars were more likely to be stolen at the back, de­spite the fenc­ing.

Speak­ing at the clinic, Chris­tine Jansen (53) – who grew up in Ma­nen­berg – re­calls first go­ing there when she was six years old. Ma­nen­berg has al­ways been rough, but she thinks it’s get­ting worse.

“We are see­ing an in­crease in the youth abus­ing sub­stances and drop­ping out. It is of­ten not safe at school, where kids smell of dagga or fall asleep,” she says. “From about nine years old, kids join starter gangs ... These laaities all go to jail or die at some point.”

With a sweep of the arm, Jansen points out var­i­ous bits of gang turf sprawled out around the clinic: “That way you have the Hard Liv­ings, there you have the Clever Kids, the Amer­i­cans, and the Ghetto Kids near the train sta­tion.”

The gang cri­sis in Ma­nen­berg even spurred the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on po­lice to visit the neigh­bour­hood last Fri­day, af­ter 17 peo­ple were killed in less than a month. Po­lice statis­tics show that Ma­nen­berg had the third-high­est drug-crime fig­ures of all the coun­try’s po­lice precincts last year, record­ing 3 191 drug-re­lated crimes and 63 mur­ders. In­side the Ma­nen­berg Clinic, with its bright cor­ri­dors and wait­ing room filled with preg­nant women and tod­dlers on neat rows of chairs, the de­spair of crime and bro­ken fam­i­lies feels some­what re­moved.

The floors are gleam­ing blue li­noleum and the walls are freshly painted, with in­for­ma­tive an­te­na­tal posters and, along one cor­ri­dor, a sign that reads: “No kim­bies (nap­pies) here”.

The clinic’s man­ager, sis­ter Judith Hen­dricks (52), was there, even though it was sup­posed to be her day off.

Hen­dricks’ of­fice win­dow­panes are also bul­let­proof, and there is a panic but­ton within reach of her desk. Her walls are lined with cer­tifi­cates for ser­vice ex­cel­lence and, on a shelf, a large sil­ver tro­phy stands next to a pot­ted plant.

The Ma­nen­berg Clinic has won the tro­phy – awarded an­nu­ally to the best of nine clin­ics in the Klip­fontein sub­dis­trict on the Cape Flats – three times.

“It is im­por­tant for peo­ple to know that de­spite the sit­u­a­tion out­side, we are ac­com­plish­ing so much in here,” she says.

She has been at the Ma­nen­berg Clinic for three years, af­ter mov­ing from the nearby Hanover Park Clinic, where she worked for 10 years. She says she loves her job and that she has grown ac­cus­tomed to the vi­o­lence sur­round­ing her.

“In Hanover Park there were se­lec­tive shoot­ings – at 8am, and then maybe again at 12am,” she says.

“But here in Ma­nen­berg, wow, it just con­tin­ues. Vi­o­lence can erupt at any time; es­pe­cially on days of fu­ner­als, they shoot.”

She adds that the clinic has strict pro­to­cols when vi­o­lence flares up: “We close the gates and the build­ing, and call the Metro po­lice. They are usu­ally here within min­utes. Then we con­tinue.”

Hen­dricks, who lives 6km away in Lans­downe, says that al­though she is not scared, some of the clinic’s sup­pli­ers are more wary. “We al­ways let our couri­ers know when they must not en­ter Ma­nen­berg.

“I am not fear­ful, but shame, some of the IT guys, for ex­am­ple, are very scared,” she says with a smile.

Hen­dricks had al­ways wanted to be a nurse and started train­ing at the Som­er­set Hos­pi­tal in Green Point when she was 21. De­spite her years of ex­pe­ri­ence, the hor­ror that chil­dren face has never be­come eas­ier to deal with.

“Es­pe­cially not with chil­dren. I al­ways see in them my own chil­dren, or my grand­chil­dren,” she says. But she is grate­ful that she can make a dif­fer­ence. “I have the op­por­tu­nity daily to im­prove peo­ple’s lives, and it is a daily bless­ing.

“I would not change my job for any­thing, or move away from the Ma­nen­berg Clinic.”

PHOTO: JACO MARAIS

trained to be­come a nurse 26 years ago and

PHOTO: JACO MARAIS

Mishka Ti­tus suf­fers from bipo­lar dis­or­der, schizophre­nia and epilepsy, and vis­ited the Ma­nen­berg Clinic on Thurs­day to test whether she was ex­pect­ing a fourth child – and to find so­lace

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