Communities united in fear of the night
Residents stumped on how to keep their children safe
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.”
KEEPING AN EYE: Metro police patrol Sonderend Primary School in Manenberg. Earlier this year schools closed in the area after increased gang violence.