Pol­i­tics mars anti-crime march

Po­lit­i­cal spats threaten to de­rail Cape Flats res­i­dents’ protests against gang­ster­ism

Mail & Guardian - - News - Ra’eesa Pather

The gangs and mer­chants of Hanover Park were given a warn­ing in 2015. In the homes where they lived, and in the drug dens where the lives of young peo­ple were stolen, they were con­fronted by brave par­ents and res­i­dents who would no longer tol­er­ate the on­slaught of vi­o­lence in their streets. It worked for a lit­tle while.

Now, as peo­ple around the Cape Flats once again try to in­vig­o­rate a spirit of re­sis­tance against gang­sters, they are fac­ing sim­i­lar prob­lems that saw the Hanover Park re­sis­tance move­ment fade into ob­scu­rity.

Man­soer Arendse (43), re­mem­bers when he could in­ject fear into gang­sters.

“They shot a four-year-old in the head, so we de­cided we are go­ing to each and ev­ery mer­chant. We went to go talk to them. We went to go see the gang­sters and we told them: ‘If we catch you, we’re go­ing to take you to the po­lice, then we’re go­ing to fol­low up on what is hap­pen­ing with you, so the sys­tem doesn’t let you go.’ It worked so well,” Arendse re­calls.

Three years ago, when gang vi­o­lence had stained the streets of Hanover Park with blood, Arendse founded the Hanover Park So­ci­ety, which be­gan as a cam­paign to purge gang­sters from the area by de­liv­er­ing any young­ster found to be in­volved in gang ac­tiv­ity to the cops.

But then lo­cal politi­cians be­gan to no­tice the so­ci­ety and held meet­ings with its mem­bers, Arendse says. There were photo op­por­tu­ni­ties and prom­ises that money would be pushed into up­lift­ing Hanover Park.

“After­wards, peo­ple started to politi­cise it [the cam­paign] and it just crum­bled,” Arendse says.

Arendse dis­tanced him­self from the so­ci­ety, and res­i­dents of Hanover Park be­came de­spon­dent.

Arendse knows vi­o­lence and grief in­ti­mately. His 17-year-old son was stabbed to death two years ago, and his friends were killed in gang-war cross­fire. “I grew up here. I know a lot of hard-work­ing guys that I went to crèche with that was shot. I’ve lost friends that were not even gang­sters, whose kids are now fa­ther­less,” he says.

Now, Arendse has joined a new cam­paign — a shut­down move­ment that has spread through the Cape Flats. Bon­te­heuwel, Kens­ing­ton and Ot­tery were scenes of protest ac­tion on Tues­day as res­i­dents at­tempted to close off their ar­eas and block­ade ma­jor ar­te­rial roads dur­ing peak hour traf­fic.

A Western Cape-wide shut­down had been promised; in­stead, there were only protests in Hanover Park, Bon­te­heuwel, Kens­ing­ton and Ot­tery. The move­ment — which also spans Langa, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, Ma­nen­berg and other neigh­bour­hoods — sought to dis­rupt the econ­omy by block­ing roads be­tween 5am and 10am on Tues­day and dis­rupt­ing peak-hour traf­fic.

It was a show of mass ac­tion that had not been seen since res­i­dents of the Cape Flats united against apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s. Many peo­ple re­called the apartheid po­lice tac­tics as they faced off against stun grenades, tear­gas, a water can­non and ar­rests in Bon­te­heuwel.

In the mid-1990s, as peo­ple’s frus­tra­tion with gang­ster­ism grew, their des­per­a­tion gave birth to the Peo­ple Against Gang­ster­ism and Drugs (Pa­gad), a grassroots or­gan­i­sa­tion of res­i­dents, later dom­i­nated by Mus­lim re­li­gious groups, who took up the man­tle to fight drug-ped­dlers and gangs.

The group would turn in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent, reach­ing a crescendo with the pub­lic ex­e­cu­tion of no­to­ri­ous Hard Liv­ings gang leader Rashaad Stag­gie, an ac­tion that made head­lines world­wide. Af­ter Pa­gad burned Stag­gie alive, the group was cel­e­brated — but also con­demned as too vi­o­lent.

Pro­test­ers this week have vowed to be peace­ful. They were an­gered by the pres­ence of Pa­gad mem­bers at protests in Bon­te­heuwel in Au­gust.

But it’s no longer only gang­sters the res­i­dents are fight­ing — a po­lit­i­cal squab­ble has over­shad­owed their de­mands for jus­tice.

“You have to be in­cred­i­bly daft to think it’s apo­lit­i­cal,” JP Smith, the Demo­cratic Al­liance’s may­oral com­mit­tee mem­ber for safety and se­cu­rity, said in re­sponse to the protests. “For al­leged civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, they all have well-pro­duced ban­ners and T-shirts and, lo and be­hold, there’s a very sig­nif­i­cant com­mon­al­ity be­tween the de­sign of these.”

Smith has ac­cused Tues­day’s protests of be­ing or­gan­ised by labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu, and there­fore by its al­liance part­ner, the ANC.

“Can the real ANC just stand up and be grown-ups al­ready? When you’re do­ing pol­i­tics un­der dis­guises and be­hind fronts then you’re busy with dis­hon­est pol­i­tics,” he said.

Al­though he men­tioned de­tails of what tran­spired in the meet­ings of protest or­gan­is­ers, Smith de­nies that any of the city’s safety and se­cu­rity units were in­volved in spy­ing on the meet­ings, as some or­gan­is­ers have al­leged.

Ma­nen­berg res­i­dent Roegshanda Pas­coe stood up dur­ing a meet­ing, at which Cosatu mem­bers were present, to ac­cuse Smith and law agen­cies of at­tempt­ing to gather in­tel­li­gence. Smith has de­nied the claims and sought to dis­credit Pas­coe’s role in the protests.

Pas­coe and res­i­dents in Mitchells Plain, Strand­fontein and other ar­eas have be­gun a move­ment sep­a­rate to the shut­down move­ment of Tues­day. Al­though the two groups have the same goal of purg­ing the Cape Flats of gang­sters, and have both pledged to be apo­lit­i­cal and non­par­ti­san, their meth­ods are dif­fer­ent. Pas­coe — with help from Cosatu — has ob­tained a per­mit for a protest march to Par­lia­ment on Oc­to­ber 3. The or­gan­is­ers have asked Cosatu to be in­volved be­cause they want to use le­gal means to bring the econ­omy to a stand­still. The shut­down move­ment has dis­missed us­ing per­mits, ar­gu­ing the city would not per­mit the econ­omy to be shut down.

“We know that po­lice and the city are out there to pro­voke and get us locked up and crim­i­nalise us. I’m not go­ing to al­low them to use my pain to crim­i­nalise me,” Pas­coe said.

Cosatu has agreed to work with the or­gan­is­ers of the Oc­to­ber 3 march and has filed a sec­tion 77 no­tice at the Na­tional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Labour Coun­cil (Nedlac) be­cause mem­bers of unions have been af­fected by gang vi­o­lence.

The first meet­ing at Nedlac was due to take place on Fri­day, at which four rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Oc­to­ber 3 group, Cosatu and mem­bers from all spheres of govern­ment would dis­cuss a so­lu­tion to the dis­pute. If a so­lu­tion was not forth­com­ing, Malvern de Bruyn, Cosatu’s pro­vin­cial sec­re­tary, has said the union would ob­tain a per­mit for a mass strike by its mem­bers.

“The march was not a Cosatu march. We are not part of any of those meet­ings. So, we are quite sur­prised that JP [Smith] can make such state­ments in the me­dia,” De Bruyn said.

He said that Cosatu had, how­ever, been part of the meet­ings for the Oc­to­ber 3 protest and it would only en­dorse a march that had a le­git­i­mate per­mit.

“We will never risk our mem­bers’ jobs to in­volve our­selves in il­le­gal protests. We sup­port the call of those com­mu­ni­ties to stand up against crime, be­cause of what’s hap­pen­ing in the com­mu­ni­ties. Yoh. You don’t even know how to de­scribe it,” De Bruyn said.

Every­one in­volved in the protests has a story. Ali­cia Dool­ing re­mem­bers her grand­mother crawl­ing across their house in the late af­ter­noon, beg­ging her not to come home from work be­cause the gang­sters in Kens­ing­ton were shoot­ing.

Dool­ing was one of the or­gan­is­ers of Tues­day’s march in Kens­ing­ton.

Na­dia May­man de Grass in Bon­te­heuwel won’t let her son walk out of the house un­less she is with him and has sent him to a board­ing school out of fear that the gangs would tar­get him. De Grass cried as she spoke of how po­lice had treated pro­test­ers dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing with Po­lice Min­is­ter Bheki Cele on Wed­nes­day.

In that meet­ing, Cele asked Smith and Bon­te­heuwel ward coun­cil­lor An­gus McKen­zie to leave af­ter res­i­dents an­grily jeered at the two. It was a mo­ment when Cele, an ANC mem­ber, kicked out Smith, a DA politi­cian, at a time when crime in the Cape has be­come an im­por­tant fo­cus of both par­ties’ elec­tion cam­paigns for 2019.

Smith be­lieves that the protests have un­fairly tar­geted the City of Cape Town for fail­ing to ad­dress gang vi­o­lence, whereas pro­test­ers have ar­gued that the po­lice and the city are re­spon­si­ble for not con­tain­ing the vi­o­lence.

For Arendse, the mem­o­ries of grassroots protests be­com­ing politi­cised are all too clear. As these lat­est protests have be­come em­broiled in po­lit­i­cal spats, the gangs are left un­touched, he says.

“Cases were made against pro­test­ers for pub­lic vi­o­lence. Now what do you call guys that shoot you in the street ev­ery day?” he asked.

“We’re not com­plain­ing about any­thing, but at least if we’re poor, let the po­lice come and do their jobs. Let there be safety for us.”

As these lat­est protests have be­come em­broiled in po­lit­i­cal spats, the gangs are left un­touched

Shut­down: Mass ac­tion on the Cape Flats on Tues­day in­voked the spirit of re­sis­tance res­i­dents re­mem­ber from the 1990s and the apartheid years, as did the po­lice’s re­sponse, which in­cluded tear­gas and ar­rests. Pho­tos: David Har­ri­son

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