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The never-ending cycle of gang violence

I was a teenager when I experienced a true understanding of gang violence for the first time.

My three cousins, my brother and I were visiting our grandmother's house, located in a quiet street in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain, populated by older coloured people who'd probably bought their council houses after the 1994 elections.

It was one of those Cape Town summer evenings, where the sun set really late and we were playing in the little courtyard outside her home (because we were never allowed to play in the road), when suddenly she came running outside still holding the wooden spoon she was using to stir the mutton curry she had bubbling on the stove.

She yelled, "Come inside! Come inside!" as she smack-pushed us through the front door.

Apparently there'd been a warning about shooting on the open field about five houses down her road and this protocol was the norm.

My brother and I, both new to and completely unaware of the dangers of gangsterism, sat on her pink leather couch in silence as we watched her first close the windows facing the street and then the curtains.

"They're going to shoot now," she said.

She asked us to stay away from the window and play on the floor and then walked back to her bubbling pot and carried on making supper.

As our cousins whined about not being able to play outside, my brother and I held hands quietly.

Kyle, the youngest of our lot, was 'not scared of gangsters'.

He, about seven-years-old, at the time, was adamant those shooting would not target us because we weren't gangsters.

"Mama," he said, "they know you live here, they won't shoot us."

Mama, becoming increasingly irritated with 'Kyle's nonsense', rolled her eyes and said, "They will shoot you for being in the road, for even looking at them. They don't care."

Both worried about acting scared in front of our cousins - who were clearly used to this kind of thing - and quite frankly afraid for our lives, my brother and I tried to calm Kyle down and distract him from playing outside.

Then, quite suddenly, a series of gunshots, a few high-pitched screams, doors slamming, cars screeching and silence.

The five of us sat quietly through the entire ordeal, which felt like long stretched out minutes but was actually a matter of seconds.

And mere minutes later, we were outside again, playing 'Huisie Huisie'.

For months after that incident I thought about it, had nightmares about it, mulled over alternative outcomes, and obsessed over the safety of the locks and windows at Mama's house.

But the reality, which I only realised years later, is that my grandmother and cousin and others like them are used to gang shootings.

There's a protocol to be followed and warnings handed out. No one speaks to the police for fear of their own lives and most would rather lock themselves in their homes and close the curtains than speak out.

Gang violence has been an issue in the Western Cape for many years and the residents pay the price.

This week two teenagers were killed, caught in the crossfire between two rival gangs.

One of the victims, Jucinta Matroos, was only 12-years-old - a child, caught in a cycle that residents and police seem unwilling, or unable to break.

Tamsin Wort is an EWN Online writer in Cape Town.

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