‘If police can kill a Down syndrome child, how can we trust ...

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‘If police can kill a Down syndrome child, how can we trust them?’

Eldorado Park residents relive the anguish of losing loved ones after Nateniël Julies, 16, was shot dead

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A truck and mementoes metres from Nateniël Julies's home, where he was shot dead, allegedly by police.
tribute A truck and mementoes metres from Nateniël Julies's home, where he was shot dead, allegedly by police.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

A purple dinosaur sits on top of rocks alongside teddy bears and flowers, in front of a truck where 16-year-old Nateniël Julies’s hand prints can still be seen.

The Gauteng teenager was shot dead last week, allegedly by police officers. It’s a sombre spring day at Hillbrow Flats in Extension 8, Eldorado Park. Children are playing soccer and men are loitering on corners, smoking. Outside the Julies house, preparations for the memorial service are under way.

When news of Nateniël’s death made headlines, the community took to the streets, calling for an overhaul of the police station and demanding justice for the youngster.

His death has been described as a trigger which set off a “volcanic eruption” of anger in the Eldorado Park community.

Christabel Buson and Cordelia Guercio-Job of the #NotInMyCommunity group.
Fighters Christabel Buson and Cordelia Guercio-Job of the #NotInMyCommunity group.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

In Extension 6, we meet two women who are part of a group of people who have lost loved ones to violence in the area.  

Christabel Buson, 45, will never forget February 2017. It’s the month in which her son was allegedly shot by an off-duty police officer. Three years later, the Buson family are still fighting for justice.

Nico Buson and his son, Jeandre, 20, helped their neighbours push their car up the road. They came across a domestic dispute and Nico tried to intervene. When they realised it was getting violent, they left.

Later that night an off-duty police officer allegedly came to their house demanding to see them. Jeandre was shot in the back of the head.

Christabel Buson holds a picture of her son, Jeandre, who was shot dead in 2017, allegedly by an off-duty police officer.
Another statistic Christabel Buson holds a picture of her son, Jeandre, who was shot dead in 2017, allegedly by an off-duty police officer.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

“I used to think my son was killed in the most gruesome way because he was shot from behind like a coward. What about this poor child [Julies]? I know exactly what they’re going through. One minute your child is here, the next they’re gone,” Christabel said.

She is part of a group of mothers in Eldorado Park whose loved ones have been murdered. The group, #NotInMyCommunity, has 12 members, two of whom have lost loved ones, allegedly at the hands of police officers.

Voster Netshiongolo appears in Soweto's Protea magistrate's court in connection with the murder of Nateniël Julies.
Suspect Voster Netshiongolo appears in Soweto's Protea magistrate's court in connection with the murder of Nateniël Julies.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Last week, Nateniël, who had Down syndrome, was shot metres from his home and the police station. He died in Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

Sgt Scorpion Simon Ndyalvane and Const Caylene Whiteboy, who are attached to the Eldorado Park crime-prevention unit, have appeared in court on charges of premeditated murder, defeating the ends of justice, discharging a firearm in a public space and unlawful possession of ammunition. They will remain in custody until their next appearance on Thursday 10. A third police officer, Vorster Netshiongolo, was arrested and is facing charges of accessory to murder after the fact, defeating the ends of justice and  possession of prohibited ammunition. He appeared in court on Thursday.

“We teach our children that if you are in danger and you see a cop, scream and ask for help, but can we still do that now? If they can go out and kill a Down syndrome child, how can we trust them. Not all of them are corrupt. We had a little bit of trust in them. But now that an innocent child who couldn’t defend himself was killed, how do we trust them again?” Christabel said.

Banners near Hillbrow Flats in Extension 8, Eldorado Park, where Nateniël Julies was shot dead.
Banners near Hillbrow Flats in Extension 8, Eldorado Park, where Nateniël Julies was shot dead.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

Cordelia Guercio-Job, 43, lost her uncle in 2016, though not at the hands of police. Guercio-Job, like the other women, has been sent from pillar to post by police officers and has yet to find justice.

Members of the #NotInMyCommunity group have offered support to the Julies family and said they will continue to fight for justice. They’ve also been going to court to support each other.  

“We are hurt. The frustration you are seeing is a build-up from over the years. The cops, to an extent, are abusive in the way they address us and in the way they treat us. The unresolved murders, the dockets that go missing, the police who drag their feet when investigating. It’s as if we don’t matter. The anger has been there; this just exploded the whole situation. It was like a volcano waiting to erupt and this was the icing on the cake,” Guercio-Job said. 

Children play soccer in Eldorado Park.
Safe? Children play soccer in Eldorado Park.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

“This group brought a sense of home. Before, you felt alone, but this group has changed that. We are appealing for more people to join us,” Guercio-Job said. 

While Extension 1 and 3 are said to be the worst areas in terms of drugs and shootings, Extension 7 is where it’s said children can still freely play in the streets and walk to shops without fear.

Men smoke outside a block of flats in Eldorado Park, Extension 8.
another day Men smoke outside a block of flats in Eldorado Park, Extension 8.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

In Extension 9, opposite the stadium, it’s relatively quiet when we meet entrepreneur and author Siboniso Nomgenge, who started a foundation aimed at highlighting the good in Eldorado Park.

The 24-year-old will be releasing a book later this month titled Eldos Game Changers — Inspiring conversations with quality people. Originally from Komani in the Eastern Cape, Nomgenge moved to Eldorado Park at the age of two, raised by a single parent.

When the aspiring filmmaker couldn’t get into university due to lack of funds, he started a small business selling clothing.

Through his brand, Nomgenge Duo (ND), he later launched a foundation to give young people the opportunities he never had. Failing grade 11 didn’t stop him from finishing school, but finances prevented him from studying further. Like many others, Nomgenge almost succumbed to the social ills in Eldorado Park.

Siboniso Nomgenge, 24, started a foundation to give young people job opportunites. He will launch a book next month in which he shares inspiring stories about people from Eldorado Park.
Game-changer Siboniso Nomgenge, 24, started a foundation to give young people job opportunites. He will launch a book next month in which he shares inspiring stories about people from Eldorado Park.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

“At first I used to drink. It wasn’t extreme, but I was attached to drugs. I realised that I wanted to be a change in the community and keep a clean image. The church made the difference in my life. Every street, every household has a story about a drug addict in the family, whether it’s a close friend, a relative or a neighbour. That’s how extreme it is,” Nomgenge said.

With the help of his church and The Yellow Ribbon Foundation, founded by anti-drug activist Dereleen James, Nomgenge has become a game-changer in a community rife with unemployment, crime and drugs.  

When lockdown meant his mother, a domestic worker, couldn’t work, he became the sole breadwinner in the family. By selling clothing and masks, Nomgenge has been supporting his mom. From selling sweets as a young boy to writing a book about inspirational people from Eldorado Park, his dream is to take his clothing brand further.

“There’s a negative stigma about Eldorado Park. It’s always portrayed in a negative light. I wanted to show the positive side. I see my brand as the Nike or Puma of Eldorado Park. My biggest dream is to see ND on a national sport team,” he said.