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HRC calls on gov to provide adequate housing for back-yard dwellers, following Elsies River massacre

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The Human Rights Commissioner has called on South African government to provide adequate housing for backyard dwellers, calling it a “prime ground for criminality.” He was speaking outside the Elsies River homes of the three young children who were shot and killed in an apparent gang hit on Tuesday night.

It is understood that an unknown number of suspects forcibly entered the Clark Estate dwelling in Northmeade court and opened fire on those inside. The deceased include: 10-year-old girl Toslin Samuels and two boys, M J Samuels and Adrian Junior Alexander, both aged 12. It was believed that a 19-year-old alleged gangster, who was shot and killed as well, was the target of the shooting. However, residents say that the suspects shot the children in cold blood and had thereafter proceeded to a different room to shoot the teen.

The next day. the Anti-Gang Unit arrested two suspects, aged 30 and 36, while another suspect was arrested later the afternoon. The third suspect was released due to lack of evidence.  Religious leaders joined heartbroken residents as they gathered to show support and offer condolences to the deceased family members on Thursday morning. The community called for bail to be denied for the suspects.

Neighbourhood watch group member, Jacobus Solomons, said when police and other safety structures reported to the scene, everyone was in tears. He said that the dozens of gunshots that rang through the air that night, struck fear into the hearts of the entire whole community.

Majority of the crowd gathered on Thursday, were young children. Emotions were high and many of the women in the crowd were overcome by emotion and couldn’t speak. Residents, including Yvonne and daughter Ronalda Beukes, echoed the sentiment and said it is a tragedy.

“It isn’t right. I have three children of my own and look at this. Its very sad, I don’t know what we can do. There’s too much to and I don’t have words,” said Ronalda.

“We must get the whole community. I know we can’t stop them (gangsters) but we will try our utmost- they aren’t going to take over every time. Enough is enough!” said Yvonne.

During an emergency joint sitting of Parliament on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a five-point action plan to tackle gender based violence . Among the resolutions was to “strengthen the criminal justice system”. Ramaphosa previously committed to harsher punishment for those who commit crimes on women and children.

It comes as a petition calling for the death penalty to be reinstated, garnered thousands of votes. Resident from a nearby court, Karen Langenhoven, said they are tired of funerals.

“It’s so tragic, innocent lives were taken. They had prospects for the future, it just (aint) right. The only thing I think that would work is the death penalty. A life for a life- the bible says it. If you can take an innocent life, then your life can be taken.”

But not all communities feel this is a sustainable solution. Neighbourhood watch member, Jacobus Solomans, noted that Elsies River has been deemed a red zone, which meant he and his Neighbourhood Watch Team cannot be visible at night. But, in the early hours of the morning, they patrol and assist the walking Bus project in the area. Solomans said that the community needed to stop protecting the criminals.

“If you breed violence and try to fight violence with violence, you’re going to get more violence. So, we need to have a solution within our communities. Nobody else can help us if we don’t help ourselves,” shrugged Solomans.

“(It’s) because we know the perpetrators. We know who sell(s) the drugs, who has the guns, who steals… but we don’t stand up to them. There is more than 20-30 000 people in this area and there are about 100 gangsters. They are far less than what the community are. If we go their houses and demand they stop, we don’t have to go to them with guns and violence, but we need to put our foot down and say this is our community,” urged Solomans.

“We can tell them: stop the violence, stop the nonsense and that’s it. But here is too many in-fighting in the community and with the organisations. That is the biggest problem.   The moment the organisations can work together, we can easily solve the problem.

Although the South African National Defence Force had been deployed to the Western Cape to focus on easing a growing number of gang-related murders on the Cape Flats, Solomans said that it is the smaller, “petty” crimes that need to be paid attention to.

“There is no resources here. If we have a shutdwon, like the last one, you get beaten up and everything gets done to you, and there’s enough police. But there is no police visibility here all day. Especially the law enforcement, you don’t see them.”

“As the council they are supposed to do the small things. If you can start fixing the broken windows, lock up the one standing there with a pipe, lock up the one urinating in the street and swearing and so on. Do the small things and you will get to the bigger things, as long as you show people there are law enforcement.”

“As long as the law enforcement is absent in our communities – this will keep happening. Because they know- they tell you- the boere (police) will not come. This is what the gangsters tell you straight away: “the boere won’t come, you can do anything and I’m not scared.” It’s true, they’re not scared. They do it over and over again and there’s nothing stopping them because WE are harbouring them,” said Solomans.

John Adams, member of the nearby Bishop Lavis Action Group (BLAC), said however that children don’t know any better.

“People are fighting to survive. The Western Cape government needs to come to the party because, if they’re not going to address with the socio-economic problems in our communities, it will never end, that’s where there is so much evil. You can’t blame the small child. There’s no bread but the gangster has enough bread and he can (help his) family survive.”

Several residents appealed to the younger generation to avoid seeing the luxury lifestyle that comes alongside gangsterism and urge them to seek opportunities.

Placards held by minors displayed phrases such as “We deserve to live”, “enough is enough” and “cowards’ rape”. Faith leaders offered condolences to the distraught families and residents and prayed for peace, protection and guidance, among other things.

The young children’s placards  drew an emotive response from parents who questioned why it was necessary for them to be making requests in the first place. Residents also expressed that it is simply “what the children are used to”.

Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Nissan, was among those who offered consoling words to the families of the deceased and community. He noted that crime fighting is a community effort.

“It’s not only the police that must combat crime. I appeal to all of us- we know who the gangsters are, but we keep quiet. We know who steals the copper cables and other people’s stuff, but we keep quiet. And so, (if we) start doing things in our own communities and not depend on the police only. But there are mothers that knows the gun that their son has is illegal, but they don’t talk about it.”

He emphasized the importance of parents taking responsibility for their children, the friends they keep and what they do with their time.

“When the laaitie (child) comes home and he’s got new Nikes, but you know he’s not working… Why are you not questioning him? We keep a blind eye to stolen goods. The time has come that when our mothers and fathers see it’s 7/8 o’clock and the child is not in the house, why do you close the door? Go look for the child! The responsibility is on us as mothers, fathers, neighbours to look out for one another. ‘

“When something happens with the child the parents run out but do not discipline the child. Please can we go back to the old style of disciple. And I don’t mean spanking. I mean engaging with the child, I mean talking. Help the child with his schoolwork etc. I appeal to, all of us as adults, mothers and fathers. Let us end this scourge, let us stand together!” exclaimed Nissan.

“Let our mothers have tough love for our children! You can say to my child, I disagree with you and let the law take its course- but I still love you. Instead of, when the child has done something wrong, we are the first to protect the child.”

Apart from a lack of policing, Adams also pointed to other factors that make criminality in the area easy, such as the informal layout of areas and lack of basic services.

 “I had never seen people being killed like that. Everyone, the police, neighborhood watch, was in tears. We need proper housing. At this moment we are trying to get Eskom meter boxes but nobody wants to assist us. Because, that particular night, there was no lights and the guys came in here, kicked the door open and shot the kids. We cant afford proper housing, they (government) must build proper houses like RDP’s. Look, it was so easy for anybody to come in, kick a door open and just kill!” exclaimed Adams.

He added that community structures are willing to work with government.

“We need help from the government. We want to sit with them. As the stakeholders of the area, don’t want them to come and ask us what we want- they must come with solutions. Three-four years ago, we had a similar case like this- with Courtney Peters. They came and asked us what we want- we don’t want that because (since then) they had not even come back with any solutions.”

Nissan meanwhile further why there is a “roll-over” of money which can be used to empower poor communities. He called on government to provide backyard dwellers with housing opportunities as the backyards are a prime ground for criminality.

“This City of Cape Town has rolled over money… why can’t they build houses for our people? Because it is in these backyards where there is crime (happening). People don’t have respect for one another, children don’t have respect because there’s no space. People must be given an opportunity to get a house.

Among the religious speakers were the Imam at Claremont road masjid, Imam Rashid Omar, who emphasized how important it is to be realistic about the situation.

“This is so important that we meet people on the ground who are suffering on a day-to-day basis. Often these people feel isolated, that their voices are not heard- so it’s so important to be with them and tell them that their lives matter. )It’s important) to pray for them and to see what support we can give them. I’m very humbled to be here, I feel very emotional because I feel I should do much, much more.”

Omar highlighted that “poor communities” often feel isolated from the rest of society.

“These are the people that need our compassion and reaching out, for us to amplify their voices. Cape Town is a very divided City, as you know, and this is the “other” part of Cape Town, (the part) of Cape Town that is marginalized and neglected. I ask Allah to bless the people here and guide us to continue in this mission,” Omar said.

The imam expressed the urgent need to address the inequalities seen in Cape Town.

“Its very complex. I don’t want to pretend that I have simple solutions, because, if we did it would have been resolved a long time ago. There’s a number of factors that come together, but if you look at these depressed conditions… this is one of the major factors (that) during apartheid, our people were dumped in squalor conditions like this. These are breeding grounds for kind of violence we see.”

“It’s a number of variables that come together to produce the kind of violence we have. The joblessness and huge inequalities in wealth in our society (is another factor). And the breakdown of family values. But we must not give up, we must tackle them one by one, slowly. I am hopeful that this is an eye-opener to see that this is the challenges we are facing.”

Nissan appealed to communities to not accept a sad fate.

“I appeal to you let us stand up, let us speak out Too many people are losing their lives. Despite the army being here, things have not changed. The change must not come from government and police, but from us as human beings.”

Look:

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