Fears that violence in some of Cape Town’s gang-torn suburbs could disrupt elections were allayed thanks to heavy rain — and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In the days leading up to the polls, there was a marked increase in gang violence and retaliatory shootings, leading to concerns that voters would be discouraged from coming out to cast their ballot.
In the latest shooting on Tuesday, just hours before polls opened, gangs targeted a rival gang member. Days before, a 39-year-old alleged gang hitman was shot and injured on Letaba Road in Manenberg. He had apparently just been discharged from hospital after being beaten by vigilantes in the nearby suburb of Bokmakierie.
Earlier this week Police Minister Bheki Cele said additional police reserves would be deployed to the province to monitor gang violence and service-delivery protest hotspots.
But the reinforcements may not have been necessary. Anti-crime campaigners say Wednesday’s inclement weather, as well as an apparent Ramadan truce, meant members of the Americans and Fancy Boys gangs put their guns down.
“It was very calm on Wednesday, but we had a shooting last night [Tuesday]on the corner of Jordan Street and Great Fish Avenue. Up till now, we don’t know if he is alive or not. He was a member of the Fancy Boys,” said Roegshanda Pascoe, of the Manenberg Safety Forum. The community activist has previously said she encouraged Manenberg residents to abstain from voting.
She believes political parties have been paying lip service to the community and not tackling the gang problem.
“I didn’t vote. I’ve been pained and hurt by this state. They have to show me and the people that they will do better by us. We are being exploited. Only after the vote, if things get better, then I will see if I will ever vote again,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe is currently testifying in the Cape Town high court in the 2016 murder case of Angelo Davids, allegedly at the hands of six members of the Clever Kidz gang.
Police statistics show that in 2018 there were 61 murders in the community, most of them gang-related.The police regularly patrol the area since President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a new anti-gang unit in nearby Hanover Park in August 2018.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan started on Tuesday. It may also have been a factor in keeping tensions in check.
“Every Ramadan it’s like that. But, in reality, we also know that in the past this is the time that the gang fights stop. But if they see you individually, they will still go for you,” Pascoe said.
On Wednesday, voting at Manenberg’s largest voting station was brisk and steady. The presiding officer at the Edendale Primary School voting station, Faldiela Solomons, said voters were not discouraged from coming out.
“The rain didn’t affect voting at all. People know what is expected of them,” she said,happy that the vote was peaceful. “We have not been affected by any shootings and voters didn’t turn back because of any shootings. So it has been peace. This school is one of the biggest voting centres. So, historically, we get a big turnout here of about 2300 voters,” she said.
At the voting station, voters came swaddled in jackets and scarves, some in pyjamas, most holding an umbrella.
One woman, who did not want to be identified, said neither rain nor gangsters would stop her from voting. “I look forward to voting. And I would have come to vote even if they were shooting. You get used to it if you live here,” she said.
Another Manenberg resident, Waleed Ajouhaar, said his voting day was peaceful compared to the previous weeks of shooting. “It was a quiet day. Gangsters don’t like cold weather. And we are hoping for the best and that this peace and quiet lasts,” Ajouhaar said.
The father of four said although he was thankful for the increased police presence, he wondered what would happen in the days and weeks after the elections.
“A lot of the time gang violence doesn’t make the papers. And a lot of the time it’s just simmering. It’s a low-intensity war. But fortunately, I live across the road from the voting station. There was police. And the police presence keeps the gang violence down. Today is not the day to be running around with guns,” he said.
Ajouhaar laughed at the suggestion that Ramadan played a role in the truce. “Ramadan has an impact. I’m not saying they’re religious. But things quieten down. But that doesn’t mean there’ll be no conflict.”
Protests put on hold for voting
Activists at the Siqalo informal settlement in Cape Town say that, now that voting is done, they will continue their service-delivery protests.
Disgruntled community members on Wednesday morning met ANCand Democratic Alliance representatives, and the police, who convinced them not to continue with their planned protest.
Residents of Siqalo have had regular demonstrations that have intensified in the weeks and days running up to the elections.
Protesters, who are mostly Xhosa, would block the adjacent Jakes Gerwel Drive highway, meaning residents of Mitchells Plain, who are mostly coloured, could not move freely to work and back.
This has caused racial tension between the two groups.
But community activist Mthandeni Mazembe told the Mail & Guardian that voting was allowed to continue unobstructed. “We didn’t have a protest because we were promised that officials from the housing department will come to us in the next few days. So, we decided to stop the strike,” he said.
He said, however, that if a housing official did not meet them, then protests would start in earnest.
“We didn’t block people to vote. Because voting is a personal decision for each and every one. But the strike, I promise you, [is] not finished,” Mazembe said.
At the Siqalo voting station, consisting of only a tent, voters huddled together for protection from wet and cold conditions.
But for some, dancing and singing worked to keep them warm.
Voter Nobuntu Nyameli wore an ANC T-shirt and her nine-year-old daughter, Solwethu, wore a red Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)beret.
“I love the ANC. But her father is EFF. What can I do?” Nyameli said.