/ 25 January 2019

‘Politicians woo us, but don’t stop Cape Flat gangs’

In August last year
In August last year, Bonteheuwel’s residents blocked a major road in protest over the high levels of crime in their neighbourhood. (David Harrison/M&G)

Frustrated residents in Cape Town’s gang-ridden suburbs say they are expecting a deluge of politicians to canvas for votes ahead of the elections, but they don’t expect them to do much about combating gangsterism.

Residents in Valhalla Park and neighbouring Bishop Lavis described a recent “World War III” scenario when rival gangs shot at each other across rows of tenement housing projects.

In late December a four-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl were shot dead in drive-by shootings. Last week a Golden Arrow bus passenger was injured when a suspected gangster’s stray bullet hit her in the head.

In the same week, in Bokmakierie near Athlone, a six-year-old girl was hit in the leg, also by a stray bullet, while walking to a shop near her home.

Days later Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the family to assure them that the police would soon make arrests. This week he met residents of Bonteheuwel after gang-related murders occurred in the area.

The Manenberg Safety Forum’s Roegshanda Pascoe says that every five years politicians make promises to curb gangsterism, but little changes.

“Currently our people are still under gang warfare. Now I’m hearing that the minister wants to visit the homes of the victims,” she says.

“The sad part of it all is that my phone is ringing nonstop from activists in the red zones like Hanover Park and Valhalla Park, asking ‘Where is the anti-gang unit?’”

She says she is even considering starting a campaign to get Manenberg residents to boycott the elections. “I would tell them [the politicians] ‘Don’t come and waste my time by talking to me now.’

“I’m not voting. And a lot of people in my area, which I serve, are supporting my stand to not vote in the national elections, because they [politicians] haven’t done anything. They come and give us old news in saying they’re going to make the area safer.”

In last week’s by-election in ward 31, which includes parts of Bonteheuwel and Valhalla Park, the Democratic Alliance won the ward. But when figures are compared with 2016’s results, the party lost 20% of their vote.

READ MORE: Standing up for Bonteheuwel — ‘We did it in 1976, and we will do it now’

The ANC made a small gain of 4% in that ward, but the big surprise came from the African Christian Democratic Party, which garnered 20.56% of the vote.

The election also showed a drop in voter participation: 26.75% compared with 61.2% in the 2016 local government elections.

The DA and the ANC in the Western Cape are campaigning on anti-crime tickets for the 2019 elections. The DA says that if it wins the national poll it will create a provincial police force to better serve citizens and fight gangsterism and crime. The ANC is hailing what it calls the success of the police’s anti-gang unit, which was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in Hanover Park in November last year.

Both plans have received lukewarm responses from anti-gangsterism activists.

Elsies River community policing forum (CPF) spokesperson Imraahn Mukaddam says people should use the political attention to their advantage. “It’s always the time we start making demands for the kind of things we don’t get the politicians’ ears for. Like the [CCTV] cameras and the lanes to be closed. So we use this time to get some things done. It’s the time to take advantage of the political climate.” Mukaddam says of the upcoming elections that the focus of residents in gang-affected areas should not be on the national level, but on provincial and local levels.

He says the DA, as the provincial and municipal government, has failed residents. “There’s a lot that they can do that they are not doing. They have control over institutions like education, sports and culture, and amenities. And looking at the budget for hotspots and control over council property. So they have a lot of power that they are not using in terms of crime prevention.”

But he also criticised the ANC about fighting gangsterism. “The ANC has used the anti-gang unit as a political tool. Its timing is not entirely above board. And in terms of the impact [of the unit], it’s still not effective.”

In Cape Town’s South Peninsula, Grassy Park community policing forum spokesperson Philip Bam says the rush to make crime an election ticket was expected.

He warns against disrupting parties canvassing for votes and attempts to stop people from voting.“Individuals in the community can say and do as they want to. But it’s not up to the CPFs to be chasing anybody away from the area. They [the politicians] must be allowed to campaign freely.”