Streets of misery: Westbury says ‘no more’
In Westbury, life is lived at gunpoint. Now more blood is being spilled as they take their anger to the streets
In Westbury, Johannesburg, primary school children greet each other by asking: “Which gang do you belong to? Are you part of the Fast Guns or Varados?”
This is the life that has led residents to say “no more”, with their anger over the shooting death of the mother of a 10-year-old spilling into the streets over the past few days.
For Delores Mackay, the picture is all too familiar. Last year she lost her son – the father of three young daughters – to gang violence. Her home in the Waterval flats is opposite the Sophiatown police station.
Westbury has been Mackay’s home for more than 30 years, but her life changed forever on May 4 2017 when Richard was shot dead in gang violence, just metres from her flat. Today, that spot is surrounded by trees and a park with a jungle gym.
“I was sleeping because I was getting cold. Community members came knocking at my door and told me that my son was shot.”
She ran outside and found her son still alive. But she had only enough time to say goodbye.
“When the police and paramedics finally arrived, my son was dead.”
He would have turned 35 this year.
“He was a well-mannered and respectful young man.”
Richard was a rising soccer star who loved his family. He played goalkeeper for local teams and was well known in the community.
“He did a lot for me. Richard would often do my washing, cook for me or clean the house. He was always there for me. I miss him so much, he was a good son,” Mackay says tearfully.
A drug turf war has forced Westbury residents onto the streets. During the almost a week-long protest they barricaded several roads with rocks and burning tyres.
The protests turned bloody when scores of locals were wounded by police with rubber bullets. A police Nyala was almost petrol bombed.
Over the past few days the streets have been littered with rocks, rubble, rubbish and empty rubber bullet and teargas cases.
Police seemed to have fuelled the frustration of residents, some of whom are calling for the army to step in and “clean up” the drug-ridden area.
Residents have identified the drug dealers as “Finch” and “Keanan”, saying they are powerful and feared men.
Last week, Heather Peterson was shot and killed in the crossfire of alleged gang violence. Her 10-year-old daughter was wounded.
Locals say Peterson was killed after collecting her children’s report cards.
They say a pastor who tried to testify against drug dealers in the area was killed. The police have not confirmed this.
“What is happening with our police force? Where is safety and security in our community? Where are our rights? Where are our protection?” resident Rafiek Jardine asks.
The government had failed them “dearly”.
“Instead of uplifting societies, this is what they are doing. There is nothing that we are doing wrong. We are the people who are suffering. Soon it will be rich, very rich and poor.”
Jardine has called for the release of eight residents arrested for public violence.
Another resident, Caswell Snyders, says gangsterism is “real” in Westbury schools.
“Go to our primary schools and ask the kids there how they greet each other. They ask each other: what is your chisa? Are you a Fast Gun or a Varado?"
“This how our primary school kids are thinking. When you go to the high schools the principal will tell you how many bully cases they have to do instead of teaching, how many discpline they have to do,” Snyders says.
Roberto Jones says the protests are getting “personal” and innocent lives are being lost.
“You know that lady who died last week? She left a husband and children behind. If our parents are being targeted by the police and the gangsters, what must we do?”
“Everybody knows the drug dealers who are involved in all of this, but do you think I am going to risk my life saying who they are?” Jones says.
He believes the problems in the area can be resolved and residents can move forward.
“We will continue to fight for justice. Things will eventually get better.”