Gangsters set aside their guns for Eid, but now war resumes
‘When they put weapons down, they actually see it as a chance to decide who they want to go for next’
As the sun set over Manenberg in the Cape Flats, so too dimmed the vague sense of security the residents of the impoverished Western Cape suburb enjoyed during the holy month of Ramadan, when gangs downed their weapons in respect for the religious event.
“Die Laan” is Manenberg’s notorious stretch of road that separates several gang territories and acts as a violent battleground infamous for high crime rates and shootings. But on Sunday night it was barricaded and played host to 2,000 residents who broke the fast together.
“Boeka innie Laan” was enjoyed by residents for the second year in a row, and organiser Salieg Isaacs said there was a “joyous atmosphere” as gangs set aside their weapons for Eid.
The event was organised by Brothers for Life, the Manenberg Centre of Islamic Information and Education, City of Cape Town representatives and the SAPS.
“Many of the gangsters were present but they stood away from the tables and didn’t disrupt proceedings in any way out of respect for the community,” said Isaacs. “They were all very calm.”
But as residents of the multi-faith suburb enjoyed a vast spread of food and drink donated for the festive occasion, many were wary that the respite from violence that accompanies Eid was also coming to an end.
Mere hours after the supper, reports of two gang killings spread. Manenberg station commander Colonel Sanele Zama said one was shot and another stabbed to death. No more details have been confirmed while police notify next of kin.
“Life has no value for them [gangsters],” said Zama. “Gangsterism is tearing families apart and we realise that we have to police it differently.”
Zama said “spiritual education” and gatherings such as Sunday’s breaking of the fast were crucial to the police’s mass mobilisation efforts on the community.
“Part of the problem with gangs in the communities is a lack of spiritual guidance, so we have communicated with churches and the Muslim community in Manenberg because they have a huge role to play,” he said.
“During this Eid period we can uplift the community by engaging them with spiritual exercises like this and encourage young people to stay away from gang life and see that there are other opportunities for them.”
Zama also suggested that in spite of the continued violence, crime rates had decreased since implementing this directive.
“Since last year, bringing about religious education in the areas has in fact reduced killings and gang activities, and detectives have managed to get some of the criminals locked up for life.”
Residents were nonetheless in good spirits as food and laughter were shared among people from various religious backgrounds.
“This event integrates the community,” said ward councillor Aslam Cassiem. “Not only Muslims but members of all faiths are welcomed, and the illicit gang business that they are so used to in that area comes to a halt.
“We have many issues here but this was a happy occasion where even those who are causing these problems were respectful and able to positively contribute.
“People with various problems were also able to discuss issues with community leaders and police in a more relaxed environment,” Cassiem added.
Roechsanda Pasco from the Manenberg Safety Forum agreed that the end of Eid was an anxious time for residents.
“When Eid finishes, the residents get scared again. That’s when the gangs start killing again,” she said. “It actually brought tears to my eyes that a man was shot [on Sunday night] right after the Ishtar, because then it confirms our fears that they only down weapons for this period before the violence flares up again.
“When they put weapons down they actually see it as a chance to decide who they want to go for next. That’s how they attack now,” said Pasco.
Manenberg residents said their priority was to see gangsterism cut out from their homes and community, and that events such as the one on Sunday evening went a long way towards generating “goodwill”.
“We are thankful that we are able to share food with each other and enjoy some calm,” said a resident.