Gang violence keeping some CT communities penned in long after lockdown relaxed

The COVID-19 pandemic isn't the only disruptive force in such neighbourhoods where residents have had to contend with hunger and the constant threat of gang warfare for years.

A group of young men, one with a tattoo 'RIP' (Rest in Peace), pose for photos during a police crime-prevention operation in Mitchells Plain in Cape Town on 5 March 2021 during a joint operation between SAPS and provincial Law Enforcement officers. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP

CAPE TOWN - Almost a year after South Africans first experienced hard lockdown, one crime-plagued community said on Wednesday that it was like the nation never moved to level 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn't the only disruptive force in such neighbourhoods, where residents have had to contend with hunger and the constant threat of gang warfare for years.

Eyewitness News visited two Cape Town communities to find out how residents there were dealing with a tumultuous year.

Clarke Estate in Elsies River used to be abuzz with activity, with the sounds of children playing in the courtyard between blocks of flats.

But not today and it was not because residents were social distancing either.

Whilst the second wave of COVID infections has passed, residents there are still under threat from another pandemic - that of gang violence.

READ: Pandemic lockdowns expose CT's worsening food insecurity crisis

Resident Patricia Conradie said that it was COVID-19 and the associated regulations that initially forced them inside, but the risk of violence was keeping them there long after the nation moved back to level 1.

“To see kids unable to play outside is not nice - there’s gangsterism and shootings. You can see the place is empty outside because you don't know when it's going to happen.”

Another crime-plagued neighbourhood is Tafelsig in Mitchells Plain; gangsters there appear to have put their differences aside. Well, at least while they're queuing for food.

Community leader Joanie Fredericks runs a soup kitchen in the area where they feed every hungry person that they can, no matter their history. But Fredericks has made it clear to local gangsters that their brand of violence was not welcome there.

“In this queue here, you cannot come stand here with a knife or a gun and still hold your plate for food. You're going to have to let something go, and this is not a place for your fight. It’s not going to happen here.”

Whilst hard lockdown shredded an already fragile economy and substantially increased hunger in poor and working-class areas, it did have one upside for a few brief months: areas like Tafelsig and Elsies River could breathe as the endless cycle of gang violence paused.

WATCH: Gangsterism, hunger & COVID-19: Cape Town communities’ triple threat to life


Community leaders said that the hunger pandemic plaguing poor and working-class communities had gotten worse even though the COVID-19 lockdowns had been eased.

The 2020 Child Gauge Report found the pandemic and associated lockdowns left nearly half of South Africa's mothers and children going hungry for parts of last year.

Researchers found 47% of households ran out of money to buy food in May and June.

READ MORE: COVID-19 exacerbated hunger among SA's children in 2020, report finds

Local community NGOs said that they had to step up to the plate as needy residents looked to them for help in the crisis and the aftermath.

Suretta Steenkamp runs a soup kitchen in Clarke Estate in Elsies River. She remembered the start of the national lockdown and the desperation it brought.

"The need was much more because we had more people standing in the line for food. As you think about it, we are already so poor in our communities and now COVID came and many people lost their jobs.”

A year later, South Africa is at level one again, for all intents and purposes, back to normal. But Steenkamp said that in the area she serviced, the situation was actually worse.

“Most of the people are unemployed. Now it's like people have to take other measures to provide for their families.”

Fredericks agreed: “In level 5 lockdown, we knew that everybody would be needy and as the levels dropped until level 1, we now have people who walk freely and yet when it is time to give food, the queues remain as long as they were, and longer.”

In spite of government's drive to keep the most vulnerable citizens fed, Fredericks believed that the implementation has been patchy and had let citizens down.

“Remember all those promises about hampers and R350s? There are people who're still waiting. Today still, people are asking me can you help me get the R350 and I tell them please forget about that.”

Both Fredericks and Steenkamp said that it was donors and not government who kept their organisations going and without them, they wouldn’t have been able to help others.

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