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Bullets and books: The story of a Bonteheuwel matric

Matric student Chad Abrahams has literally had to dodge bullets both at school and on the walk home from school in the gang-infested area.

Chad Abrahams attends Arcadia Senior Secondary School in in gang-infested Bonteheuwel, where 44 people were murdered within the first six months of the year. Picture: Lizell Persens/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Imagine studying for matric exams in what is essentially a war zone. This is the reality for Bonteheuwel matric student Chad Abrahams, who has literally had to dodge bullets both at school and on the walk home from school in the gang-infested area.

This week, the bulk of the matric exams get under way in earnest, and in parts of the Western Cape such as Bonteheuwel which has become synonymous with gang violence, children sitting their final years at school have to deal with the pressure of matric exams while at the same time trying to stay alive.

Eighteen-year-old Abrahams attends Arcadia Senior Secondary School in Bonteheuwel where 44 people were murdered within the first six months of the year.

Home to 10 different gangs, Bonteheuwel recorded at least 80 murders in in 2018.

This means that for Abrahams, gunfire and gang wars are part of his daily life and have already impacted on his schooling.

“We wrote mock exams when bullets started flying over my head. They flew past me and landed on a roof.”

Tears rolled down his cheeks as he told Eyewitness News how he narrowly escaped being killed one afternoon as he walked home from school.

“It was either fight, flight or freeze… I was shocked, but as people ran past me, the only thing I had to do was run.”

As commonplace as violence is in his neighbourhood, he said it's impossible to get used to.

“When you hear gunshots, you wonder who got shot or whether it’s my sister or a friend.”

Chad Abrahams wonders who the latest victim is after hearing gunshots fired

Abrahams has lived in Bonteheuwel all his life, moving within the area four times, most recently to one of the most dangerous parts.

There are severe socio-economic challenges in the neighbourhood that feed gangsterism and violence.

According to census data, the unemployment rate is about 25% higher than the overall rate in the province, where only 23% of community’s members have completed matric or higher education.

For many learners, it’s a struggle just to stay in school.

“We started off grade eight with about 150 students but now we’re only 59 matrics. People start dropping out because of financial instability. Some became pregnant. Over the years, children have also had to go work in order to provide for their families.”

Abrahams said things had become a little easier to bear in recent months with the deployment of the SANDF and a pilot project led by local authorities called the Bonteheuwel Neighbourhood Safety Team, which saw 100 City of Cape Town law enforcement officers taking to the streets.

“I feel safer. I can walk in the road without fear.”

Chad Abrahams feels a bit safer after the deployment of the SANDF and 100 law enforcement officials in Bonteheuwel.

Despite the many challenges, Abrahams is the top learner at the school and was awarded first place at his matric valedictory earlier this month.

He said what’s keeping his head in the game right now were his future prospects. His family, like so many others in Bonteheuwel, is underprivileged, and he feels a deep responsibility for their welfare.

At the moment, his sister is the breadwinner at home providing for the family of four.

“We don't have finances. If I'm not going to be successful, how am I going to care for them and myself? So, I need to make a success."

He is planning on pursuing a Bachelor of Business Administration degree and wants to become a teacher.

He told EWN why he feels this was his calling.

“I find teachers inspirational in the way they share their knowledge with us, even risking their lives to come to Bonteheuwel and teach us. This is my way of giving back to my community."

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