Scared for our lives – just another day in Manenberg
LAST TUESDAY night most teenagers in Cape Town were on WhatsApp, chatting to friends about exams, or a date to the Grade 10 dance, or the Stormers match.
But teenage girls in Manenberg were on WhatsApptelling one another where the latest gunshots were being fired, and comforting each other as they hid under their beds trying to avoid getting shot.
Outside, gangsters ran up and down the empty streets, firing at random, with little fear of police retaliation.
Through the night, the girls sent messages to one another:
“Plz be safe gurl shooting again in the area.”
“Girls I hope u all safe in bed. I hear gunshots everywhere.”
“Our road just flooded by members of the xxxx. Don’t know if they are looking for someone.”
“People are walking up and down my road praying and singing gospel songs. People are fed up with this violence already.”
“We re@lly need to st@nd up here cos de fe@r too mch for u chldrn.”
“Ah they shooting again now, can’t sleep. Gunshots too much laying in bed worried.”
Those who live outside the firing zones have become acclimatised to stories of gang violence in the Cape Flats, tuning out when they hear the word “gangster”.
But for these girls, there is no escape from the violence, no way to tune out.
Instead, they use social media to keep one another safe and calm each others’ nerves.
And it is not just on the Cape Flats.
Last week in Imizamo Yethu, teenagers were not able to get to school after a boy was killed in a gang fight.
Girls were told that the road to school was a “no-go” zone controlled by gangsters.
After getting warning texts from friends, many young people stayed home.
On Wednesday morning, more shots rang out in Manenberg as children and teenagers decided whether it was safe to go to school. Should they risk getting caught in the crossfire or miss their exam?
Teens in Imizamo Yethu faced parents armed with pangas, demanding justice.
Most teenagers in Cape Town just had to decide what to pack for lunch.
The gulf of inequality between the young people who were chatting about homework last week and those chatting about how to stay safe in the middle of a gang war is so vast, so deep, so cold that even ice swimmer Lewis Pugh could not cross it.
Right now, these young people have a few lifeboats – occasional police vans at school dismissals, afterschool programmes like Rock Girl and the Children’s Radio Foundation, a hug from a caring teacher, maybe a counselling session with the trauma centre at their school.
The one thing that can cross this gulf and bridge the gap between these teens is the South African constitution.
It protects all children, no matter where they live. And it states that all children have the right to human dignity and to education.
While the army and the police may be able to provide temporary protection, ultimately it is up to all of us to ensure that children are safe.
South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that includes children in its bill of rights.
It is time to make the constitution a living document.
WhatsApp can’t keep these children safe forever.
Today is Youth Day, to honour the young people who lost their lives fighting for a South Africa that was safe for all, no matter where they lived.
Young people today shouldn’t have to lose their lives fighting for the same thing.
This week, Rock Girl took 12 girls from Manenberg and Gugulethu on a road trip to the Eastern Cape. The girls interviewed other young women along the way and will produce a radio show.
They are seeing if girls around the country face the same challenges.
And they will be using social media to share these stories.
Follow them on Twitter @rockgirlexplore, on Instagram #rockgirlonthe road, and Facebook at https:// www.facebook.com/Rock.Girl.SA
Michelle India Baird is the founder of Rock Girl, a grassroots movement to inspire, encourage and invest in women and girls.