‘We’re gatvol - we’ll sort out Cape Flats crime ourselves'
Embattled communities united as residents say they have given up on government tackling crime scourge
One of the organisers of Tuesday’s “Western Cape Total Shutdown” protest against poverty, crime and unemployment said he was encouraged by the level of coordination between neighbourhoods.
City of Cape Town law enforcement officials said about 300 people blocked off roads in working-class communities affected by gang violence and poverty, including Bonteheuwel and Hanover Park.
Organiser Gatto Wanza, from Manenberg, said the unity between different communities facing similar social ills was the main positive element to come out of the five-hour protests, which began at 10am.
“Our intention is to engage all communities on the Cape Flats to eventually come to a position where the people start coming up with solutions,” he said.
Community leaders would meet to discuss the next plan of action.
“We have given up on government; with them there is no hope, so we need to sort this problem out ourselves,” said Wanza.
On the corner of Hanover Park Avenue and Turfhall Road, a handful of protesters took a day off from work to stand on the street and prevent traffic from passing through.
Entire families held up posters with letters styled in dripping red paint under dozens of enlarged pictures of people who have been killed on the Cape Flats, mainly children.
Some had died in gang violence while others were victims of the pandemic of child killings, which have traumatised communities since 2015.
Angela George and her husband Martin were among the protesters who stood on a corner where they said a neighbour had been shot dead in gang violence a few weeks ago.
“I am here for our community because there is a lot of crime. Kids are being killed. There was an old man of 70 years old who was arbitrarily killed last week,” said George.
“All the kids on our posters have been shot dead.”
A small contingent of public order police armed with shotguns and stun grenades helped to direct traffic away from the protesters. The protesters complained that the police presence during their protest was far greater than the police response whenever there is crime or gang violence.
“Gangsters” were watching the protests from blocks of flats under their control, said George. “The gangsters don’t care whether you are young or old, they will kill you if they want to kill you. They kill you for a cellphone or a R10.
“I’m glad Hanover Park is starting to stand up. I’ve stayed in Hanover Park for 49 years, the crime and the drugs are getting too bad. There are kids of 14 and 13 years old being used as gunmen, those kids get murdered, and now when they go to school your kids get stolen.”
Nazeem Benjamin, one of a group of young men who joined the protesters, said roadworks in the area had been stopped by increased gang violence.
“I’m turning 29, I have my own company. For three weeks I’m at home due to gang violence. I can’t work because we’re working on the roads. Here is also one of our workers, we can’t work,” he said.
“What must we do to show them we’re tired of this mess?”
Most drivers showed patience with the protesters, if not solidarity. But one asked why they did not protest on a corner where drug merchants operate.
Protester Charles Samuels said they were not there to fight crime, but to protest against their living conditions. “You will hear those remarks ... ‘go stand there by the merchant’,” he said.
“That is the work of the law. This is the work of the community – showing how they feel about all these dynamics – so we pay no mind to that. We are gatvol,” said Samuels.
He echoed what the protest leaders felt: “If we want change, we have to do it ourselves. This is going to become a trend. The provincial government, police ... we don’t even want to talk about that. Let’s rather do things for ourselves.
“It’s not a nice thing for you to sleep and then to hear gunshots right next to you. They are terrorising us,” said Samuels.
At another intersection in Hanover Park, protesters blocked the main road, but when an eager younger man brought two tyres to burn on the road, residents removed them and told him they were conducting a nonviolent disruption.
“We want to build, not break down,” said one protester.
At one point they forced cars to make U-turns and, when two cars got stuck on the central verge, protesters ran towards the drivers and helped lift their cars back onto the road.
Protesters in Bonteheuwel who tried to block the M5 were dispersed by riot police and several people were arrested for illegal protest action.