Residents cite a litany of violent killings but anger over the apparent indifference of the police leaves them with few options but to protest
Heather Peterson (46) left her washing machine running when she went to collect the report card of a 10-year-old relative at the Westbury Primary School last Thursday, according to residents familiar with the details of the day.
On her way back from the school, in an alley just metres from her home and down the road from the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, Peterson and the child were caught in the crossfire of feuding gang members.
A photograph of Peterson, lying face down in a pool of her own blood, has been circulated widely among the residents of Westbury, on the edge of Sophiatown in Johannesburg.
She is wearing a doek and a plain tank top, the outfit of a woman cleaning her house or planning to nip out on a quick errand before continuing her chores. But Peterson never returned to hang up her washing.
Her death was the straw that broke the camel’s back, after years of gangrelated killings in Westbury, according to residents.
A week ago, they took to the streets to protest against the ongoing violence.
By Monday, the streets of the dusty suburb are covered in a film of black ash from burnt tyres. Yellow shopping bags, broken glass and bricks are strewn around. “I never knew Westbury had so many bricks,” one resident jokes.
The pedestrian bridge above the Rea Vaya bus station is where people gather to see the action but not get caught up in the chaos.
The day is punctuated by short bouts of conflict between police and protesters. But, once the commotion subsides, residents emerge from their houses with brooms to sweep up the mess.
From the relative safety of the bridge, a group of residents, mostly women, recount a list of violent killings that have left them feeling as if they are under siege.
“It makes me naar,” one woman remarks, her grey hair peeking out from under her headscarf. She asks not to be named.
“But I will name the people that they need to arrest, even if they have to go to Durban and arrest them,” she says, taking a drag on her cigarette.
The women say Westbury’s main drug lords, who go by the names of Keenan and Finch, have fled to KwaZulu-Natal, where they are living it up while the rest of Westbury’s people have been left to fend off the police.
There is no love lost between Westbury and the police. On the bridge, Faye Faver explains why Westbury has lost faith in the authorities.
“Even if you bring evidence and the person is caught, they don’t even hesitate to tell them that this person saw you. Now you not safe. That’s the reason why people are not saying anything.
“For instance, with the incident last week, there are police from Sophiatown that know what happened there. Why are they not doing anything about it?”
Local leaders like Bishop Dalton Adams, who describes himself as the bishop who buries the most bodies, connects the violence that has enveloped Westbury to coloured people having been “gravely and tragically neglected by government. The coloured people have become the stepchildren of this country.”
Adams says the only way he was able not to get caught up in the violence of Westbury when he was growing up was because he was raised by a “praying mother”.
Carol Sallie is the person credited with organising the protests in Westbury.
She was teargassed on Monday and her voice is all but gone. But she says she won’t stop the fight because the women are tired of the violence.
“The gangsters are killing and raping our women and children, so we
Get the message? Westbury’s residents took to the streets to get the police to act against the violence wrought by gangsters