From the news desk

Hopelessness and despair in Bonteheuwel

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The community of Bontheuwel say gang violence in the area has made living conditions unbearable. On Tuesday, VOC News did a walkabout in the area and spoke to some residents about their views on gang related violence. Respondents varied in age and backgrounds yet they all shared the same concerns about the future of the gang obsessed youth of Bontheuwel.

With the release of a recent South African film centred around the gang infested cape flats, many youth have been inspired to join their local gangs after the glamourised movie reviews.

The Bontheuwel community is largely populated with most of its residents falling under the poverty line. While drug abuse is on the rise, youth from as young as 12 years old are joining gangs today.

One mother, Lillian De Bruyn said her son was the most recent target of a local gang. She explained the was never a violent individual but rather a youngster who aspired to become a soccer player. At the age of 33, her son was clearly on his way in the sports world. He received a number of awards for his sportsmanship, and never joined or mingled with anything related to gangsters. However, his ambition was what cost him his life.

“In this place its either you join a gang or you are their enemy. They knew my son was a good person with a bright future. They told police that he tried to rob them and so they retaliated and shot him. My son would never have done that. Any one of my neighbours can vouch for that. Since there seems to be no hope, I have closed the case and will let my son rest in peace,” De Bruyn said while fighting through tears.

De Bruyn’s son was shot at the beginning of September 2014, while on his way to fetch his child a few blocks away from where he lived in Bontheuwel.

Her story is not uncommon. Many others residing in Bontheuwel share the same heartache.

Another resident, Tasneema Van Wyk’s son was also murdered by a local gang.

“I need to get out of this place. It has been two years since I lost my son but still, this place is going downhill. If you are not targeted, that doesn’t mean you still wont get shot. Stray bullets kill as often as intentional bullets do,” Van Wyk said.

Other residents spoke of the concern for the younger generation. Children as young as 12 years old are selling drugs or recruited into gangs these days. A former teacher of Modderdam High School, Mr Shoeman said one of the main reasons why so many children are joining gangs can be attributed to the lack of recreational activity in the area.

“There is nothing positive these kids are getting subjected to. Sometimes on a Saturday there is a soccer game on the nearby field but hardly ever do you hear of other activities aimed at the youth to uplift and inspire them. All they see on a daily basis is the arrogance and dominating behaviour of gangsters. To you and I this might seem unappealing but to a child who has little to no food or support from their families, joining a gang is the next best thing. They are guaranteed popularity amongst their peers in the community. For people who do not have much, this is a lot,” Mr Shoeman said.

The easy accessibility of drugs is a major concern for many in Bontheuwel. This is especially the trend amongst the parents and older generation. 31 year old, Cheslyn Philander said the area of Bontheuwel needs police visibility to ensure that the children steer clear of any or all drug activity in the area.

“Their youthful innocence are taken away from them at a very tender time in their age. Some might not be engaging in gang activities but they are surely subjected to that type of environment. They become desensitized to the wrongs of this area. Even I have had my time on the wrong side but thankfully, I grew wiser and now can speak about my trials and tribulations and hopefully bring awareness to the harshness of this area,” Philander added.

While most of the residents say the issue of violence and drug can be tackled with intensive police clamp downs, the rise in so called “gang life” popularity should be immediately addressed through workshops, awareness drives and media coverage highlighting both the positive and negative side of Bontheuwel to restore the pride within community members. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)

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