Tackling the gang giant

Members of the Rocklands Watch walking through the area.

In the past three months gang violence in Mitchell’s Plain has led to at least 10 murders – a situation that needs community mobilisation, said Mitchell’s Plain SAPS station commander, Brigadier Cass Goolam, who urged residents to take back their streets.

In an interview with the Plainsman on Monday, Brigadier Goolam said the gang hot spots in Mitchell’s Plain are Tafelsig and Rocklands. He said there are policing strategies in place to combat crime in Mitchell’s Plain, including gang violence, but SAPS also needed support from residents.

He said SAPS’ drug and gang strategy focused on visible policing, focused investigations, making use of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) and intelligence, as well as community mobilisation.

Brigadier Goolam said a major obstacle in the fight against gangsterism is the community of Mitchell’s Plain. “They are complacent and are in denial that their children are engaging in criminal activities,” he said.

“They are also reluctant to partner with the police and be active and to change their own circumstances by looking after their streets. We cannot patrol the area 24 hours a day, so parents and residents need to join the street or block committees, the neighbourhood watch and other safety structures. We can help you set it up and guide you,” he said.

Brigadier Goolam said over the weekend police members recovered four vehicles in one block, which was used for drive-by shootings – this is shortly after that they recovered several rounds of ammunition in the area.

“This meant that we prevented shootings in the area at the weekend,” he said.

Using the example of recent gang activity in Hyde Park, Tafelsig, where about 15 residents had the windows of their homes smashed during gang violence last month (“Gangs smash Hyde Park residents’ windows”, Plainsman, September 7), Brigadier Goolam said they hear the cry of the community.

“After the community imbizo we called (“Police host imbizo to cool gang war”, Plainsman, September 28), residents have been proactive and have approached the gangs and have said enough is enough,” Brigadier Goolam said.

Speaking about drug activity in Mitchell’s Plain, Brigadier Goolam said there were fewer drug houses in the Mitchell’s Plain area than people think. “There are perceived drug houses, these drug dealers have now moved to the streets, because we have been attaching houses (through POCA and other legislation). So because of this they are now operating on the streets and we see this daily in our stop-and-search operations,” he said.

Abie Isaacs, chairperson of the Mitchell’s Plain Community Police Forum (CPF), said police action and community intervention have lessened gangsterism in the area.

“Yes there have been shootings where people have been killed and injured, but we have seen over the past months that the community mobilisation approach has been working. To combat gangsterism, we need information and reports from residents – without information, there can be no action,” he said.

Mr Isaacs said there were various contributing factors to gangsterism such as overcrowded homes, lack of parental love and care, lack of positive role models and activities for young people after school.

“Sadly, this is a reality. Our young people need alternatives otherwise they are going to be swallowed by crime. The CPF has a programme for 10 youth; its Greater Cape Ambassadors Project (Gcap), in collaboration with DJ Ready D, which includes motivational talks and life skills programmes but there are hundreds of them that need support. Unfortunately we cannot reach them all but (together) residents, organisations and government can,” he said.

Moegamat Jappie, the chairperson of the Seaview Block Watch in Rocklands, said over the past three months there had been ongoing shootings, especially in Rocklands.

The watch has an active membership of 10 and does patrols in the Rocklands area on weekdays, in the mornings from 3am to 7am and in the evenings from 5pm to 10pm, as well as weekends. The block boundaries are Eisleben, Caravelle and Weltevreden roads and Baden Powell Drive.

Mr Jappie said crime had increased over the past five years, and with a team of residents they were trying to combat crime through patrols and community meetings. The most recent community meeting was held on September 9. “There are constant shootings in parts of Rocklands such as the area known as ‘Die Hel’ but I believe that if residents stand up, we can take our streets back. In our Seaview block we have no drug houses and shebeens because we chase them out of here, we put pressure on the gangsters and we make them feel unwanted,” he said.

Watch member and Rocklands resident, Clarence Trouncell, urged residents to report crime. “When the annual police statistics are revealed I doubt they are a true reflection because residents are reluctant to report crime. How is the police suppose to support residents if they are not reporting?” he said.

Mr Trouncell said residents can report crime anonymously if they fear for their lives. “We often find that people are scared to report criminal incidents. It is a sad reality that our youth are being recruited by gangs and are being used by gangs,” he said.

KAYLYNN PALM

One programme currently being run in Mitchell’s Plain to address social problems of vulnerable children is the Isibindi programme, which has marked its first year.

The Isibindi programme is a pilot project in Tafelsig and is one of the programmes run by the Mustadafin Foundation.

Isibindi means ‘courage’ in Zulu. The programme was established by the National Association of Child-Care Workers (NACCW) to address the problems of vulnerable children left to fend for themselves.

Morisha Fortuin, Mustadafin’s co-ordinator for the Isibindi programme, explains what the programme is about: “This is a great programme and thus far we have had successes. There are currently 444 children registered, for Tafelsig only. One of the legs of the programme is the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Support Structure, where children from the ages of 10 to 18 participate in daily activities.

“Some of the children have been used by gangsters, drug dealers, and have been abused. Some of them have never been to school and don’t even have a birth certificate, and others have dropped out because of crime,” she said.

Ms Fortuin said drugs and gangsterism destroy the lives of children, and through the programme they can see how it affects them.

“These youngsters have been used by the gangsters, carrying their guns, knives and drugs. They live in homes where the mother and father are on drugs, or are alcoholics. This becomes a norm to them and they believe that they should behave like a gangster or aspire to be one.

“It is frustrating to see how gangsters use children to do their dirty work. Our children are becoming addicts and are even dying on the street. Them being poor does not make them less of a human being,” she said.

Ms Fortuin said the programme is effective as the youthcare workers interact with the children daily in their living spaces. Young people are also transported to the ECD support structure in Montrose Park where they take part in life skills, social and sporting activities.

“They have fun activities like drama, done by Sam Moleke and sporting activities by the South African Youth Adventures organisation. The children and youth look forward to these activities, and do not want to leave when 4pm strikes and they have to go home,” she said.

Ms Fortuin said the youthcare workers do home visits and engage with the family members of the children.

“It is important for us to communicate with the parents of the child because our aim is to make a positive change in the lives of the children. What we try and make them understand is that they too need to change their bad habits because it does have a negative impact on their children,” she said.

Jasmina Salie, ECD Support Structure co-ordinator, said they teach the children how to change their mindset and how to deal with issues. “We journey with them, and there are days when we cry and laugh with them. Some of them have been through a lot at a young age and we try our best to assist them the best way possible.”

Ms Fortuin said there are three children under the age of 10, who are living in a “suiker huisie” – a house where children are exposed to drug and gun dealing, drug use and prostitution. “So if our children are exposed to this, what exactly is a safe home? Parents need to take responsibility for their children – they are a gift and should be treated with love and care,” she said.

Mogamat Yusaf Adams, Mustadafin’s onsite psychologist, said there has been a huge improvement in the behaviour of the children since February. “They have changed over the past few months, this is because we work, listen and communicate with them.

“When they started they were aggressive and angry but we understood why they were behaving that way.

“It took time for them to trust us and then open up to us, and I can see that they are trying to change their lives for the better,” he said.

A Tafelsig youngster, 16, who is on the programme, said he strives to be a better person and would like to put the past behind him.

“I have a second chance to turn my life around and I am willing to do it. When I first came on the programme, I was a hurt and angry person. I have learnt to deal with my anger and how to get along with my peers at the centre. I am more confident and I believe that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he said.