Com­mu­ni­ties united in fear of the night

Res­i­dents stumped on how to keep their chil­dren safe

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JAN CRONJE

WHEN res­i­dents of Khayelit­sha and Ma­nen­berg met to dis­cuss crime in their com­mu­ni­ties, the mes­sage was stark: the com­mu­ni­ties are united but live in fear of leav­ing their houses af­ter dark, po­lice in­dif­fer­ence, and the daily vi­o­lence and bul­ly­ing their chil­dren face at school.

A dis­cus­sion, which took place at the Ma­nen­berg Peo­ple’s Cen­tre on Thurs­day evening, was part of this year’s Groot­boom Me­mo­rial di­a­logue or­gan­ised by the So­cial Jus­tice Coali­tion (SJC) and the African Cen­tre for Cities.

And while speaker af­ter speaker called for com­mu­ni­ties to “stand up”, there was lit­tle agree­ment on what could be done.

Such talks have been held since 2008, in mem­ory of Wal­lace­dene hous­ing ac­tivist Irene Groot­boom.

Ma­nen­berg com­mu­nity ac­tivist and Right2Know mem­ber Rushanda Pas­coe opened pro­ceed­ings by say­ing chil­dren th­ese days had ex­pert knowl­edge of guns even be­fore they started school.

“Chil­dren as young as two years old, they will tell you any­thing about a gun,” she said, to mur­murs of agree­ment from the 200-strong au­di­ence.

See­ing chil­dren from Ma­nen­berg join gangs, get ar­rested and go to prison was tear­ing the com­mu­nity apart.

“The child that gets locked up is the child that grew up in front of you,” she said. “This sys­tem, bluntly said, is dog eat­ing dog.”

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est po­lice crime sta­tis­tics, the Western Cape has the sec­ond high­est mur­der rate in South Africa.

It leads the coun­try in at­tempted mur­der, res­i­den­tial house­break­ing and dru­gre­lated crime, which has in­creased by 200 per­cent over the last decade.

And the ac­tual fig­ures may be higher due to sta­tis­ti­cal mis­cal­cu­la­tions, the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies said ear­lier this month.

To drive home how ac­cepted vi­o­lence had be­come, Pas­coe said the au­di­ence only had to look at what hap­pened half an hour be­fore the meet­ing started. As peo­ple were ar­riv­ing at the hall, chil­dren play­ing in the street out­side let off a fire­cracker.

“Im­me­di­ately ev­ery­one looked for a safe place to duck,” she said.

SJC gen­eral sec­re­tary Phumeza Mlung­wana gave another ex­am­ple: Khayelit­sha res­i­dents ar­rived at the hall an hour late as they could not find taxis, be­cause of a re­cent spate of taxi-re­lated vi­o­lence.

Speak­ing of crime’s ef­fect on school­child­ren, Pa­trick Bur­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Jus­tice and Crime Preven­tion, said it was dif­fi­cult to know what to do with pupils who were vi­o­lent or dealt drugs in schools.

Ex­pelling them raised the like­li­hood they would join gangs: “It essen­tially dooms them to a life in the jus­tice sys­tem,” he said.

Bring­ing po­lice into schools, a sug­ges­tion some com­mu­nity mem­bers sup­port, was also prob­lem­atic. “It crim­i­nalises prob­lem be­hav­iour,” said Bur­ton, as po­lice did not have the skills of so­cial work­ers.

But by not ex­pelling th­ese pupils, they were free to bully other school­child­ren. And this could make their tar­gets turn to vi­o­lence them­selves: “Stud­ies show… the more some­one is sub­jected to vi­o­lence, the higher like­li­hood they have of turn­ing to vi­o­lence.”

Fol­low­ing the panel dis­cus­sion, res­i­dents took to the stage to tell their sto­ries. Long-time Ma­nen­berg res­i­dent Saalama Isaacs said she had lost her son to gang vi­o­lence. Now she ap­proached and talked to chil­dren she saw fight­ing or throw­ing stones, to tell them their be­hav­iour was wrong.

“I know what it is to lose some­thing,” she said. “I don't want the same thing to hap­pen to my grand­chil­dren. My plea to par­ents is to get in­volved.”

jan.cronje@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: HENK KRUGER

KEEP­ING AN EYE: Metro po­lice pa­trol Son­derend Pri­mary School in Ma­nen­berg. Ear­lier this year schools closed in the area af­ter in­creased gang vi­o­lence.

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