A mass protest action against violence in Cape Town has raised concerns over seeming police inaction in the Mother City’s gang-dominated neighbourhoods.
It was a cold and grey Tuesday morning, as traffic snaked through the Cape Flats which sprawls along the N2 highway between the Cape Town International Airport and the city centre. In a united mass action, small groups of people in Kensington, Ottery, Hanover Park and Bonteheuwel took to the streets in their communities with placards demanding an end to gang violence under the formation of what they have called the Western Cape Shutdown Movement.
In Bonteheuwel, a large contingent of police vehicles trailed along Jakes Gerwel Drive, just outside the entrance to the area. The morning began calmly, but as the peaceful protest group attempted to block Jakes Gerwel Drive — which links to the N2 — police charged in and forcefully made arrests. It is believed that Henrietta Abrahams, a protest leader, was also detained.
A scuffle between activists and police erupted resulting in a series of stun grenades being fired. Plumes of teargas hung over the community as police chased protesters away from the Jakes Gerwel Drive intersection.
“Shoot the gangsters, don’t teargas the people,” said one resident, who held a placard which read: “We’re taking back our streets”.
A teacher, who lives in the area and works at a nearby high school, was also angered.
“How many times are we shot at in our classrooms? But you do this here. Use it on the gangsters,” she shouted.
The protests come at a time when gang violence has intensified in Bonteheuwel, Kensington, Bishop Lavis and various other communities. The shut down planned for Tuesday was meant to unite the divided communities on the Cape Flats, which have been fractured along racial and class lines since they were first formed during the apartheid regime.
“Our movement has been spurred on by the lack of unity in our various communities where certain grouping or formations are exclusionary and issue or sector focused, thereby lacking the need and capacity to address all socio-economic issues faced by poor communities on a local and national level,” the Western Cape Shutdown Movement said in a statement.
In Kensington, residents were surprised by the number of police officers who had come to monitor the protest. It was a first, they said, that so many police were visible in the area despite the ongoing gang violence that has grown more frequent in recent years.
“This is a peaceful protests and we shall not move. We will slow down this traffic. You have failed the community of Kensington and Factreton,” one protester said.
Protesters are believed to have been arrested in Ottery and Bonteheuwel, but police have yet to confirm how many people have been arrested. In Kensington and Hanover Park, residents vowed not to move from the streets as police allegedly applied pressure on them to refrain from blockading roads. City officials meanwhile, kept a close eye on the protest action.
The protests, which have been recurring in areas on the Cape Flats for more than a month, have come at a time when the Democratic Alliance-led government in Cape Town is grappling to respond to the onslaught of violence that has suffocated the impoverished communities on the Flats.
JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, laid the blame squarely on the ANC-led national government for the inadequate policing resources in the city.
“It is time for the provincial government [in the Western Cape] to be given control of the policing function so they can fix the mess national government have made of it,” Smith said on Tuesday morning as protests were underway.
Protesters have dispersed but many are still demanding the release of those arrested earlier in the day be released.