Sunday Times

Liv­ing and dy­ing in West­bury hell

West­bury res­i­dents bury a vic­tim of gang wars ev­ery week­end

- By GRAEME HOSKEN and POLOKO TAU

● “I could not get close to hold her … it was a crime scene, I was told. I stood and waited about three hours be­fore her body was re­moved.” Reuben Petersen is mourn­ing the death of his wife Heather, a by­stander caught in a shoot-out be­tween West­bury gang­sters last week.

Res­i­dents told the Sun­day Times of the pain and de­spair that fu­elled protests in the Jo­han­nes­burg sub­urb this week.

A com­mu­nity worker who buries vic­tims ev­ery week­end said: “It’s trau­matic, stand­ing at a grave ev­ery week­end, bury­ing in­no­cent peo­ple, and even gang mem­bers.”

A fa­ther, 73, who watched his son die in March, said: “It’s some­thing you never get over, help­lessly watch­ing your son bleed to death.”

A mother told of the ever-present fear: “I pray even be­fore go­ing to the bath­room be­cause it is not safe any more.”

● Eldred Fred­er­icks sits ner­vously on an empty crate, brush­ing tile and ce­ment dust from his face.

At 73, the builder has seen drug deal­ers painfully kill off West­bury, west of Jo­han­nes­burg. In March his son Sel­wyn, 37, was shot dead blocks away from the fam­ily’s tiny flat.

“It’s some­thing you never get over, help­lessly watch­ing your son bleed to death.”

Fred­er­icks’s house is close to the out­door pas­sage­way where West­bury mother Heather Petersen was shot dead last week. She was caught in a shoot-out be­tween ri­val drug ped­lars.

For West­bury res­i­dents, Petersen’s killing was the fi­nal straw. Hun­dreds vented their anger in vi­o­lent protests this week. Po­lice min­is­ter Bheki Cele vis­ited the scene.

On the day she died, Petersen kissed her hus­band Reuben good­bye. When he saw her again, she lay dead in the street, just 60m from their home.

“I could not even get close to hold her … it was a crime scene, I was told. I stood by and waited for about three hours be­fore her body was re­moved,” said Reuben Petersen.

Heather had ac­com­pa­nied her 10-yearold niece to fetch a school re­port. On their way home they were caught in cross­fire. Heather was killed and the niece slightly wounded in a leg.

Petersen said he never thought much about the sound of gunshots “un­til you lose a loved one”.

“It is then that you start ask­ing your­self: what are you do­ing in such an en­vi­ron­ment? But it’s life in West­bury and we have nowhere else to go,” he said.

The street where his wife died is the front­line in bat­tles be­tween drug gangs.

Pas­tor Collins An­drews was killed in Oc­to­ber last year while sit­ting out­side the front door of his house which bor­ders the pas­sage where Petersen was shot. In 2016 he had sur­vived a bul­let wound and was due to tes­tify within days about that in­ci­dent.

Fred­er­icks said he was ter­ri­fied ev­ery time his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren went out. “Just last week a fa­ther-of-three was killed as he got off a bus ... from work.

“I just never know if [the chil­dren] will make it back home alive. We es­cort our grand­chil­dren to school, or friends give them lifts.”

Dr Been Robin­son, the prin­ci­pal of West­bury Sec­ondary School, said fights of­ten started on the streets, es­pe­cially over the week­ends at street par­ties.

“Our kids bring weapons — like knives — to school to pro­tect them­selves from those they have been fight­ing with over the week­end, or from bul­lies from ri­val schools.

“Those who are found with weapons are sent on re­hab pro­grammes. The last thing you want to do is have the child ex­pelled as their home sit­u­a­tions are of­ten not ideal.”

He said par­ents and the com­mu­nity needed to work to­gether.

“Time and again com­mu­nity meet­ings have been called, but hardly any­one shows up,” said Robin­son.

Polic­ing and se­cu­rity ex­pert Eldred de Klerk said poverty, poor ed­u­ca­tion and decades of ne­glect by lo­cal gov­ern­ments pro­vided a breed­ing ground for crim­i­nals.

“Peo­ple keep on think­ing of ed­u­ca­tion and poverty erad­i­ca­tion as long-term fixes, but they need to form part of the short-term fixes,” said De Klerk.

“Crim­i­nal net­works pro­vide their own econ­omy by of­fer­ing res­i­dents loans, pay­ing for fu­ner­als, pro­vid­ing food and other wel­fare. If we don’t sort out these is­sues, crim­i­nals will carry on ex­ploit­ing and trap­ping res­i­dents.”

Com­mu­nity ac­tivist Bishop Dal­ton Adams re­mem­bers gangs like the Spald­ings, Vara­dos, Ma­jim­bos, FBI and the Fast Guns.

“I used to live right next to the Spald­ings’ nest and I had to choose be­tween be­ing a gang mem­ber and a ser­vant of God,” he said.

“Gang­ster­ism was not driven by drug deal­ings then, and the in­no­cent would not be af­fected. In the end it was churches that bro­kered peace.”

He said nowa­days there were face­less peo­ple who lived in the sub­urbs who used West­bury as a drug mall.

“Ev­ery­body knows the drug houses, push­ers and in­di­vid­u­als be­hind every­thing, but who would put their lives in dan­ger? Po­lice must just do their jobs prop­erly.”

He buries bul­let-rid­den bod­ies ev­ery week­end. “I un­der­stand since 2014, about 900 peo­ple have died in all this vi­o­lence here. It’s trau­matic, stand­ing at a grave ev­ery week­end bury­ing in­no­cent peo­ple, and even gang mem­bers.”

Down the road, Gla­dys Gai­ley used to host vis­i­tors, even from over­seas, at The Place Pub and Grill.

“Book­ings have all dropped now,” she said.

Just three months ago, her 35-year-old son was shot and killed in Styler Street.

“I pray ev­ery day for my life and ev­ery­one’s. I pray even be­fore go­ing to the bath­room be­cause it is not safe any more.”

 ??  ?? Mem­bers of the po­lice open fire in West­bury dur­ing protests.
Mem­bers of the po­lice open fire in West­bury dur­ing protests.
 ?? Pic­ture: Alaister Rus­sell ?? Dreams have long been bro­ken in the Jo­han­nes­burg sub­urb of West­bury, where res­i­dents are caught up in the vi­o­lence be­tween lo­cal gangs.
Pic­ture: Alaister Rus­sell Dreams have long been bro­ken in the Jo­han­nes­burg sub­urb of West­bury, where res­i­dents are caught up in the vi­o­lence be­tween lo­cal gangs.

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