On the Cape Flats, freedom means being alive
Gangsters may cause residents to live in fear, but Freedom Day is going to be celebrated anyway
Almost a quarter-century after the first democratic elections in South Africa, some Cape Town residents still wonder what freedom feels like.
“For us on the Cape Flats, even after 1994, we don’t know what the true meaning of Freedom Day is, because we haven’t had it in our lives,” Manenberg community leader Roegshanda Pascoe said.
The gang violence that has roiled Manenberg for years has killed about 10 people in the past two weeks, according to Pascoe. The frequent shootings keep people inside their homes and have made schools feel like prisons, Pascoe said, with metal fences surrounding the buildings.
On Friday, Pascoe and other Cape Flats residents are gathering in Manenberg for a Freedom Day event, where they will be celebrating something others in Cape Town take for granted: the freedom of being alive.
“We can’t even walk out of our homes without being aware that we could be shot and killed,” Pascoe said. “Freedom for us in Manenberg doesn’t mean freedom as people would perceive it.”Despite the violence in Manenberg, Pascoe said the event will be a celebration, with performances from local artists and a procession down the street. A commissioner from the Human Rights Commission will also be in attendance. And Pascoe said they want to show families of those who have been killed that they are not alone.
Latifah Jacobs, another organiser of the event, said it is intended for everyone living on the Cape Flats. The suburb has been called South Africa’s gang capital and, in nine days earlier this month, listening devices placed in Manenberg and nearby Hanover Park recorded 505 gunshots. About 90% of the shooting incidents over those nine days happened in Manenberg.
The Freedom Day celebration will be an opportunity to show gang members in the area that Manenberg can also be a place where the residents can come together and stand up to them, Pascoe said.
Sergio Lambert said gangsterism has always been part of life in Manenberg. While he was at school, Lambert said some members tried to recruit him to join gangs, but he refused. Now, as an adult, Lambert said he and other residents are fearful of falling victim to gunfire when they leave their homes, making people fearful to even go shopping.
“The people must stand together, unite, and this gangsterism must [get] out of Manenberg,” he said.Jacobs, who lives in Kuils River but has family in Manenberg, said as a child she could walk freely through the area's streets. But it is a luxury children on the Cape Flats are not afforded anymore.
“Cape Flats people are not actually free,” she said. “At first we were oppressed by the apartheid era; now we are oppressed by the violence that’s happening.”