Res­i­dents cite a litany of vi­o­lent killings but anger over the ap­par­ent in­dif­fer­ence of the po­lice leaves them with few op­tions but to protest

Mail & Guardian - - News - Mashadi Kekana & Sarah Smit

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”.

‘Pray­ing moth­ers’

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

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