By Tauhierah Salie
Thousands of residents from the Cape Flats and surrounds gathered in Lavender Hill on Friday to voice their concerns over gang violence, an unreliable justice system and lack of police accountability. Approximately 5000 people were in attendance including residents and members of Community Policing Forums (CPF) and other organisations, who addressed National Police Minister Bheki Cele about the issues negatively impacting them and their communities.
46 people representing their respective communities shared an angry, disheartened sentiment that government has no political will to effectively tackle crime. The founder of Moms Move for Justice, Avril Andrews, who lost her son to gang violence, said families feel a sense of hopelessness.
“You could see the frustration among the residents. They asked questions like ‘did you forget about us’, ‘are you leaving our people to die like that?’ ‘What are you going to do about the merchants, the drug use and the number of illegal firearms in our communities,’” Andrews explained.
A resident from Bishop Lavis, which has seen several gang-related deaths since the beginning of this year, highlighted that CPF’s questioned whether they should work with police or fight crime on the own.
“There are many neighbourhood watches that give up their time (voluntarily) and most of the time it’s women because we want to see the crime come down in the community. When we call SAPS, they don’t even pitch, so why are we still giving our time to prevent crime (from happening). Look into the assistance for neighbourhood watches, what is the protocol? Do the police need to assist neighbourhood watches or must the neighbourhood do this job without police?”
A man from Belhar said he was angered at the high rate of violence against women. He went on to explain that abuse is often a repetitive cycle, with women often on the receiving end of damage. He proposed to Cele however, that it should be a criminal offence to withdraw charges after laying a complaint.
“It’s that woman (who came to the police) that is being cheered off- either by money from the boyfriend or something nice. The following day, that very same woman who was abused, goes to the same police station and says, “I want to cancel the case”. It is a disgrace and an embarrassment to society. If you are a woman being seriously abused, when you go and open a case- stand up for (yourself), stand your ground,” he pleaded.
Another problem residents had was the increasing drug use among youth and their arrogance about being caught.
“The learners tell you straight, “I can smoke my dagga, the law can’t take me because (its) legal. The police get phoned, they take them away and tomorrow they are back in school. That’s making a fool of us. Something needs to be done to reverse that,” said a frustrated teacher.
The schooling system itself also came under fire, with another resident questioning what the children are left to do if they get kicked out of school.
“The problems that come from their home, influence them at school. So they don’t come to school and the school gives them 14 days (of absenteeism) and then kicks them out. What is left for them but to become gangsters? “
Apart from dealing with crime, the residents questioned police capability and whether the justice system adequately deals with criminals. One resident pointed out a language barrier between community members and police officers.
“I’m not a racist, but how can you put people in a place where they speak Afrikaans, if they can’t speak Afrikaans? You lose your cases in the court because of the language barrier between the guy that comes to lay a charge and the guy that takes the notes.”
Several people also mentioned the corruption of police members who are working with gangsters to cover up crimes and evidence. It was noted however that not all police should be painted with the same brush, as some are dedicated to serving the people.
“I must say there are some very, very good officers that do their work and it’s sad that they get labelled (corrupt),” said Andrews.
A heartbroken mother, who said her 6-year-old daughter had been raped, explained the anguish of having to look at the perpetrator roaming the streets freely. She said community members felt victimized and taunted but if they chose to take the law into their own hands, they will become the perpetrators.
“My concern is that they’re (criminals) in today and out tomorrow. Before, Prison Service would come out to the meetings with CPF to inform us that the offenders will be released into the community and they would ask if there is anything that we want to say about it. They don’t do that anymore. The perpetrators will get VIP treatment then at the end of the day, we are the perpetrators.”
The mother also highlighted the importance of closure after losing a loved one. Several mothers were seen in tears as some speakers spoke of their children falling victim to drugs, gangsterism, murder or rape.
“Take the political hats off and become human again. Our people are crying, our mothers can’t heal. And if the mother is not going to heal, the family is not going to heal,” one mother pleaded with Cele.
An ex-convict noted the lack of accountability once criminals get out of prison. He pointed out that there are no services to help reintegrate them into society.
“There is nobody to monitor if we are going to do the same thing or (change). You can’t look for a job if you have a criminal record. Correctional services, social services, all these departments must (come) form part of the change.
Andrews noted that although Cele addressed many of the issues during his response, there is still no clear plan of action.
“They don’t actually have real answers. One of the things that stood out for me is that he (Cele) said he’s going to deal with the corruption in SAPS. That’s a good start. I think some people left frustrated but we just need to keep the police accountable for the promises they make.” VOC