Killing fields for gangsters
Residents gripped by constant fear of flying bullets in Manenberg
DOWNS Road marks the border between Hard Livings and Americans gang turf in Manenberg, and graffiti on almost every wall in the area tells the story of their bitter war, which has taken three lives and left 10 people injured in the past two weeks.
And most of the dead and injured were innocent bystanders, according to Manenberg Community Police Forum spokesman Kader Jacobs, who said other hot spots included Thames Walk, Thames Avenue and Renoster Street.
Police have deployed a Nyala to patrol the streets, but Jacobs said it was not enough to curb shootings by gang initiates keen to prove their loyalty to their new bosses – one of the main driving forces behind the upswing in violence in the area.
Jacobs said the Hard Livings and Americans were on a recruitment drive, andnew recruits were required to kill to earn a permanent spot on the membership roll.
“It doesn’t matter who they shoot, whether it’s a member of a rival gang or just someone walking down the street. It’s all about the kill,” he said.
Garnit Lottering, 17, was one of the first to die when he was hit by a stray bullet.
His sister, Ragiema Isaacs, said the situation had become so bad that residents wouldn’t step outside their homes unless police were in the area.
“It’s like a graveyard. You won’t even find a cat or dog on the streets. The only thing that waits on the outside is flying bullets.”
And with schools set to go back next week, parents are growing more and more con- cerned that their children will “end up as target practice for the gangsters”.
Residents near the Downs Road border said gun battles had become routine, despite the increased police presence.
One woman, who didn’t want to be named but who said her son had been hit in the leg by a stray bullet two weeks ago, was adamant that parents were protecting their gangster children from the authorities.
“The parents may not be gangsters, but they side with whatever gang their child belongs to. It’s not only the gangsters who are fighting, but the whole community. If you threaten to call the police on one of the gangsters, you can’t be surprised if that gang targets you or your family.”
She said four shots were fired on the street just 10 minutes before the arrival of the Weekend Argus news team. And she was angry that the police had yet to arrive.
“They always talk about how important it is for the community to give the police information, but they never act on it. These gangsters are walking through the streets with guns in their hands and yet the police somehow fail to catch them.”
Provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said police were well aware of the volatility of the situation in Manenberg, and he urged residents to continue reporting information. He said police had put measures in place there to curb violent crime, but he could not provide details.
“We will not relax our efforts… and gangsters should not fear rivals, but rather the might of the law,” he warned.
Community Safety MEC Dan Plato wants to see the army deployed to the area to help the police stabilise the situation.
“The point is to allow the police to go into the area and perform their normal functions. They cannot try to deal with every shooting and gather evidence in all the cases while still worrying about being fired on. We need them to focus on gathering evidence and getting the gangsters off the streets.”
Jacobs agreed, saying that using the army to choke the supply of drugs and weapons streaming into the area would weaken the gangs.
“It is an apartheid- era tactic… but it was very effective. The army can isolate the area and sweep it clean before moving on to the next area. This will stabilise it and allow police to maintain the peace.”
Meanwhile, there’s little to make the residents of Downs Road feel better.
HOT SPOT: Police in a Nyala and another patrol vehicle keep watch on Renoster Street in Manenberg, one of four areas identified by police as battlegrounds for Hard Livings and Americans gangsters fighting for turf. Pictures: LEON LESTRADE