/ 15 August 2013

Manenberg gang violence: ‘Our rights have been taken away’

Gang vigilantism has plagued the Social Justice Coalition
Gang vigilantism has plagued the Social Justice Coalition

Not being able to get to school because of gang violence is just one of the concerns for Manenberg teachers and pupils.

"This is the worst it's ever been," Manenberg High School principal Thurston Brown said about gang activities in the Cape Town area of Manenberg.

"Our teachers' morale is low … To get to school some of them have to travel through areas where the gang fights happen. Some of them have literally had to duck and dive from the bullets."

Brown has been principal of the school for 12 years.

On Wednesday, the Western Cape education department announced that it decided, in consultation with schools, to close 14 of them in Manenberg because gang violence had put teachers' and pupils' lives at risk.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille also wrote an open letter to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Wednesday, asking him to deploy the army to the area.

'Can you imagine'
Brown said sometimes gang members hijacked the taxis teachers used to get to the school while its passengers were still on board.

"Can you imagine starting your day like that?"

A grade 12 Manenberg High School pupil, Anthony Daniels, said the effects of the gang violence in the area made him and other children "feel like our rights have been taken away".

"This is our community but we can't walk to schools, we can't walk to the library, we can't walk to the shops."

Two nights ago, Daniels said, his neighbour was shot in the mouth by a stray bullet while he was walking past a gang fight. He is in a critical condition in Groote Schuur hospital, he said.

He felt "helpless" in fixing the problem of gangsterism saying: "Gangsters must be locked up".

Community centres
The pupil appealed to government to "give us community centres where children can go to do activities so they don't get involved with gangs".

Daniels also said deploying the army to the area "would probably have an impact".

Brown said pupils battled to concentrate in class because "they hear gunshots and they wonder if maybe one of their relatives has been injured". Pupils also missed out on "chunks" of work because they missed school out of fear of being caught in a gang fight.

Two Metro police officers patrolled the school at certain times of the day, which "brought a measure of stability" to the school but was not enough to curb the problem long-term.

"There is a knee-jerk reaction every time there is a surge of gang violence and everyone jumps in … but nothing is going to change unless all the different government departments sit down and talk about what can be done," he said.

He suggested intensive programmes implemented jointly by social development officials and the education department that worked closely with "problem children" at school, after school, and in their homes.