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Unsung Heroes: Manenberg

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This article forms part of a series focused on community activists who are the ‘Unsung Heroes’ working tirelessly to fight crime.

Ask any resident in Manenberg about Ronald ‘Uncle Errol’ Snippers, they will immediately stop what they’re doing to tell you about the man behind the ‘new found peace’ in the area. Sixty-two year old, Uncle Errol, as he is known in the community, is a tall, broad-shouldered, grey haired man with a firm resolve and determination to see the fall of gangsterism in the area. During a walkabout of Manenberg this week, Snippers spoke of his over twenty year relationship with gang leaders in the area, one that is based on mutual respect and understanding.

Now, Snippers holds the respect to walk straight into a gang shoot out and call for an end to the violence, with positive results more often than not. This relationship with local gangsters did not come easy. Snippers told of his morning ritual for over twenty years which included early morning walks to the homes of the gang leaders, to understand what the real reasons are behind their violent behaviour.

“When I wake up in the morning, right after I drink my cup of coffee, I step out of my home and walk towards the courts on my left, which is home to the notorious Hard Livings Gang. They respect me as an elder of the community but it took years to get that respect. I then make my way to the other three major gangs in the area which include the Americans, Dixie Boys and Clever Kids,” Snippers explained.

As a resident of Manenberg, Snipper said he had first-hand experience of what gang violence can do to innocent families. Snippers lost two of his sons, age 15 and 19 when they were caught in a gang cross fire.

“At the beginning they [gangsters] would disregard my attempts to get to know them and speak with them. I would always tell them that no matter what, we, the elders in the community love them. We might not like what they are doing but they are our children. Slowly, they began opening up to me. We now have a relationship where when they are in fights with each other, they would often use my home as a place where the two opposing gangs can meet and discuss their differences as opposed to breaking out in violence,” Snippers added.

Much of the recent violence seen in Manenberg can be attributed to young, new recruits who know very little about what gang life is about. This results in random outbursts of shooting and violence.

“These gangsters that I got to know are not dumb as people assume. They are smart and manipulative. They are aware of their actions and the damage they cause in the community but at the end of the day, our conversations always end up at the fact that there are not many other options out there for them to survive.

“They feel as though government has let them down. Since most Manenberg families were removed from their original communities in Apartheid and placed here, many people feel that the coloured community is forgotten in society. During my sit-ins with these gangs we discuss things like a lack of jobs, politics and other factors that influence their lives. We live in what is considered a slum and we face constant socio-economic challenges. Not a lot of good can come from that,” Snippers continued.

During his time as a community activist and member of the Manenberg Safety Forum, Snippers has become a local hero in his community. VOC News spoke to a few of Snippers’ neighbours who all echoed the same sentiments.

“Uncle Errol is the only one that will walk into a gang fight and stop everything. They respect him. Look here outside, you see children playing and people enjoying the sun, this was not the case a few weeks ago but Uncle Errol negotiated with the gangs. We see him walk to those gang houses every morning. It was not the police who brought the peace back, it was Uncle Errol,” Aneeqah Jacobs stated.

Snippers currently does his community work alone and has acquired wisdom and knowledge over the years.

“I pray to God for guidance every day. I am only able to do this work through the grace of God. When there are gang fights and shootings, I get even more persistent until there is peace. They swear and chase me away but I am like a pitbull ….and they can’t ignore me even if they tried,” he says.

He now wants to hand over to an equally community driven group of youth. Snippers hopes that a new generation of young people can join together, to understand and work with the community in order to make it a better environment for all.

“We have very little faith in politicians and government. We understand what is needed to make our community safer so we should be able to work towards it. All it takes is determination, persistence, respect and love for ones neighbour.” VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)

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