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The Cape's gang shame

Opinion,Janine Willemans
Janine Willemans
Opinion

Janine Willemans pays homage to a 41-year-old mother from Elsies River.


Today I want to pay homage to a 41-year-old mother from Elsies River on Cape Town’s notorious ‘Cape Flats’. 

Elsabe Petersen became a victim of gang violence on Monday night. Just before 8PM a gunfight between rival gangs erupted in Petersen’s neighbourhood. She rushed outside, in search of her daughter. As she returned to her home, she was hit in the back by a stray bullet. 

Petersen is not the first innocent bystander to die like this - there’ve been many before her and sadly there’ll be many more names added to the list in the months and years to come. As a result, the media coverage too has become rather fleeting and so those who pay with their lives are very seldom given the level of attention that I feel they deserve. 

Gang violence is one of the ugly blemishes on the beautiful face of Cape Town. Cynical as it may seem, I am not confident that the problem will be eradicated in my lifetime. I become even more dispirited when I see statistics bearing testimony to the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system. In the past three years, police have investigated 87 gang-related murder and attempted murder cases in Hanover Park. They’ve arrested 54 people, but to date, there hasn’t been a single conviction.

I can’t help but feel that the story is much the same in Cape Town’s other gang ‘hotspots’.

Gang violence isn’t just about policing though – I’ve been on many SAPS raids in the past. It’s very seldom that they find any concrete evidence to put people behind bars. The arrests that are made are usually for petty offences. It’s also not uncommon for the ‘bad’ guys to know about the raids even before they happen.

Flip the coin and you have impressionable young people who are easy to manipulate with the lure of fast cash and ‘bling’, especially when their situation at home is dire to begin with and their self-esteem in short supply. Communities are sucked in and their loyalty bought by gang leaders who present a loaf of bread to fill their hungry stomachs or a ten rand for electricity, etc. Little wonder then that whistleblowers are few and far between. Drive through many suburbs and witness the lack of extramural facilities both at schools and in neighbourhoods. Experience the conditions in many homes first-hand and it becomes a bit easier to understand what drives children away and into the clutches of the gangs in the first place.

The Cape’s gang shame cannot be left at the door of the police, the courts and the politicians alone. Yes, they definitely have a role to play, but essentially, the communities living with this terror everyday are the ones who have to stand up and do the right thing. 

A child who is loved is less likely to go in search of that love, however superficial, elsewhere. A child who is taught the right values and who has positive role-models to emulate is less likely to stray. A child who is given hope, belief and the opportunity to dream about a world full of possibilities beyond the tenement buildings, is potentially one who will not end up in the vicious cycle that has ruined so many lives, including that of Elsabe Petersen and her family.

Janine Willemans is EWN's Cape Town News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @JanineJD

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