Across Cape Town, at least two communities have begun to shutdown in protest against gang violence. Kensington, 10 kilometres outside the city, was brought to a halt after residents united to blockade the suburb in an effort to reclaim their streets from gang wars. Now, in Bonteheuwel, a similar protest is planned.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, as people begin to rise for work, the community of Bonteheuwel, opposite the airport in Cape Town, will shut down. In the dark chilly hours before sunrise, residents will make their way to every major road in the expansive neighbourhood, and block cars from entering or leaving.
In these streets, the sound of gunfire echoes more frequently of late than the sound of protest. Just over a week ago, six young men were killed within 48 hours in the area. Five of those killings were believed to have been related to gang activity which has surged in Bonteheuwel.
Nadia Mayman De Grass, an active community member, said that since those deaths “things have gotten considerably worse”.
On social media, faced with what has been described as unprecedented violence, residents began demanding action. A WhatsApp group was formed and it was quickly filled to the capacity of 256 people. A second group, which currently has more than 100 people, was then established.
A plan of action was then decided.
“Maybe if we close busy roads, the authorities will take notice of us as well,” Mayman De Grass said.
The Bonteheuwel mass action follows a similar protest last Friday where residents in Kensington and Factreton, an adjacent community, united to campaign against gang violence. The protest began in the early hours of Friday morning, when a major arterial road, Voortrekker Road, was blocked during peak hour traffic. The two united communities became known as KenFac.
Mayman De Grass said it was the unity of the the residents in Kensington and Factreton that inspired Bonteheuwel to hold a similar protest to unite its own people.
“People are now fighting a common goal and people were prepared to put aside all their differences in KenFac. If Bonteheuwel can achieve that, I believe that we will benefit from it,” Mayman De Grass said.
Dawood Esack (66), a community activist, has been living in Kensington since 1961. He first became alarmed at the increasing violence in Kensington in 2009, when shootings became frequent. Residents attempted to get help from authorities, fearing that gangsterism would spread, but in almost 10 years there has been no assistance, he said.
Now, the violence has reached a point where two people were shot in two separate incidents in the area within one hour last week. In another incident on the same day, a 14-year-old girl was shot in the head after she was caught in crossfire. She survived the injury.
Following the spate of deadly shootings a meeting was called last week Thursday. There was no organisation that claimed the idea for the protest — instead ordinary community members agreed a shutdown was necessary.
“The community had the meeting and they said this is what we are going to be doing: We are going to close access to Kensington,” Esack said. “The point we wanted to make was that there needs to be an awareness of what is happening in our areas.”
“It was basically to say we are nonviolent and they have a responsibility in government with regard to safety and security and they need to do something.”
In Kensington, like many gang dominated communities, it has been residents living with the violence who have organised to address the situation. But without the authorities’ help, progress has been sluggish to the point where residents agreed to sacrifice a day’s paycheck in order to get attention from government.
To date the police has not responded to the memorandum of demands the protesters handed over calling for more police action. If no response is given in two weeks, Esack said, another shutdown would commence.
Those who were involved in the KenFac protest are now in touch with residents in Bonteheuwel, advising them on preparations for Wednesday after they were asked to join the community organisers.
But already tensions have risen.
In Bonteheuwel, the protest will stop youngsters from going to school and will mean adults may only be able to go to work after 10am. At least four major roads will be blocked, including Jakes Gerwel Drive, an off-ramp from the N2 freeway serving numerous Cape Flats areas.
Angus McKenzie, the Democratic Alliance ward councillor for the area, has condemned the planned shutdown as “illegal”.
“I am in full support of the cause that people are fighting for and wanting to protest for,” McKenzie said on Monday.