The deaths of six young men in the space of just two days have been described as unprecedented and has left the Bonteheuwel community, on the Cape Flats, reeling in the aftermath of what is believed to be gang-related violence. This as the Democratic Alliance (DA) continues to call for the army to take control with community members resistant, saying they don’t want the army in their streets.
On a cold Saturday afternoon this weekend, five young men apparently got lost on their way to Bonteheuwel in a taxi. They were from the Mongrels gang in Hanover Park, some 7km away, and had come to Bonteheuwel to attend the funeral of a gang leader of the Dixie Boys, who had been gunned down on August 9.
But the young men, lost in an area they didn’t know, soon found themselves in trouble.
Their taxi got stuck in a ditch in Netreg, adjoining Bonteheuwel. The volatile area is run by gangsters who have become the breadwinners for large swathes of their community.
“They ended up in the wrong area,” Graham Lindhorst, the community policing forum chairperson for the Bonteheuwel and Bishop Lavis policing precinct, says.
“The gangs feed the community and that community will stand up for the gangsters. It’s unfortunate that those guys ended up in that community that is so messed up in terms of standing with the gangsters,” he says.
The community told Lindhorst one version of events, while the police have their own version. According to the Netreg residents, the Mongrels gangsters started shooting indiscriminately, provoking a retaliation from them.
One member of the Mongrels was gunned down while another was beaten to death with bricks and rocks by the residents.
“What the police believe is they wanted to get out of the area, but they ended up in a ditch and they would not go further. That’s when the community came for them. The community did not recognise those people so they went for them,” Lindhorst says.
In a separate incident to the taxi shooting, another two bodies would be found on Saturday, after two more boys were killed in suspected gang-related activity. The four deaths were preceded by another two killings in Bonteheuwel on Friday evening — one believed to be gang-related, while the other has been described as a botched robbery.
Another man was killed on Sunday, after he was gunned down while standing on a street corner in Bonteheuwel.
Lindhorst believes that almost all the gang-related deaths are connected to the gang leader who was buried on Saturday.
“It’s something that we’ve never seen where you have six murders in a spate of 48 hours. To us, it is quite a lot. We believe it is retaliatory,” Lindhorst said.
The army the community doesn’t want
Around the Cape Flats, communities have been agitating for the Western Cape government and national government to help them clamp down on gang violence. But in most of these areas, the communities themselves have started initiatives to fight back against the violence in an effort to restore peace.
Fadiela Haupt, the chairperson of the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (JPF), a community peace initiative, knows one of the boys who died over the weekend. But while Bonteheuwel remains tense, Haupt says that the army isn’t the answer to the violence that grips the area.
“I know who I gave birth to. The parents of these perpetrators know who they are, they know it’s their sons. But because that son is the person who is providing for the family, they won’t give their sons up,” Haupt says.
In some cases, Haupt says that the parents attack police for arresting their sons. She believes it is the parents’ job to bring their sons to book, and not the army.
In recent months, animosity has flared between the JPF and the Bonteheuwel ward councillor Angus McKenzie, with each accusing the other of doing nothing to help the community.
McKenzie has repeated calls by his party, the Democratic Alliance, for the ANC to send the army to Cape Town after the murders this weekend, because “SAPS in the area has completely lost control”.
“We are not asking the army to take over from SAPS, what we are asking for is that the army support SAPS so that we can get stability and then start the work of rebuilding our fractured gang-infested communities,” McKenzie said.
His call echoes DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s campaign under #SendTheArmyNow, where Maimane in July vehemently criticised the ANC-led government for “politicising policing and the protection of our people” by failing to send adequate police resources to the DA-run Western Cape.
But in the community of Bishop Lavis, adjoining Bonteheuwel, Charl Davids, a member of the Bishop Lavis Action Committee (Blac), attributes his area’s success in alleviating gang violence to strong community building efforts.
“They must stop playing political ping-pong with people’s lives,” Davids said.
Blac has been working with local religious organisations, the community policing forum and the police to unite the Bishop Lavis community, where gang infighting has caused divisions.
When the water crisis hit, Davids says, community meetings were held where everyone rallied together to fight against water metres that would inflate the price of water and helped one another to save water.
“We could establish street committees through that and it helps because as soon as there’s a shooting in one street, the WhatsApp groups go off immediately and they let the police know,” Davids said.
Davids remembers that in 2015 the army was deployed to Manenberg, but any relief from the violence was short-lived.
“After the army left, the violence continued. It is a short term solution. The objective is supposed to be peace, but they want to bring in the army. The DA will say it’s because there’s a war zone on the Cape Flats, but then on the other hand they will never talk then about child soldiers on the Flats because there are other implications to that,” Davids said.
Both Haupt and Lindhorst believe that the police are trying to do their jobs, and both are committed that their communities are happy to work with the police — but not the army.
“Your army is not trained in crowd control. When they come in and they see the enemy, they just agress. That’s what they are trained in, and we are worried that innocent people will come in harm’s way if those people come in,” Lindhorst says.
“Until the day the police puts their arms in the air to say we running away, we believe that they can do the job, they just need the numbers,” Lindhorst says.