Scared for our lives – just an­other day in Ma­nen­berg

Cape Argus - - NEWS - Michelle In­dia Baird

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 [email protected] need to [email protected] up here cos de [email protected] 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.face­

Michelle In­dia Baird is the founder of Rock Girl, a grass­roots move­ment to in­spire, en­cour­age and in­vest in women and girls.

CRACK IN THE SYS­TEM: This bakkie’s wind­screen stopped a stray bul­let when a gun­fight broke out in Ma­nen­berg as the lo­cal Com­mu­nity Po­lice Fo­rum pre­pared to em­bark on a anti-gang­ster­ism march. Girls in the area live with gang­ster shoot­ings...

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