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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

‘Insane to think’: Benni McCarthy on world’s first ‘bulletproof park’ in Mitchells Plain

'Fearless fun': Gun Free SA's planned play park will be entirely enveloped in bulletproof glass, with secure entrances and panic buttons.

The concept of a bulletproof play park for kids is bittersweet…or in the words of soccer legend Benni McCarthy, “insane to think”.

The harsh reality however is that every day, 34 people are shot and killed in South Africa. Sadly, often the victims of this gun violence are children who are simply playing in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to Gun Free SA (GFSA).

A proposal has recently been put forward by the NGO to develop the world’s first “bulletproof park” in the notorious Cape Flats community of Mitchells Plain heavily impacted by gang violence.

‘Bulletproof’ Benni McCarthy

McCarthy, who currently forms part of Manchester United’s coaching outfit, hails from gang-ridden Hanover Park on the Cape Flats. 

A young Benni McCarthy on the field for Ajax Amsterdam. Photo: Instagram/ BenniMac17

When he was just 11 years old, his best friend, Reginald, was killed by a stray bullet while they were playing soccer.

“We were playing football on a little pitch between the houses. During a break, I went back inside. Suddenly, we heard a couple of gun shots, but we didn’t take any notice because you’d hear that all the time. It was no big deal,” McCarthy revealed in an interview with Coloured SA.

Then our little cousin came running in and said our friend, Reginald, had just been shot. We went out, and he was just lying there on the ground. 

“Reginald would have been a footballer and a half. He was quick, very skillful and mentally he was very strong. He would have been the complete player, but he never even got to see 15.”

‘It’s insane to think that kids have to play in a bulletproof park’

Commenting on GFSA’s proposal for a bulletproof park in Mitchells Plain, McCarthy said:

“Kids are the future of our country. They need to have the security and luxury to enjoy life outdoors without worrying about being gunned down in the street just for being an innocent bystander.

bulletproof park
Source: Instagram/ bulletproofpark

“It is insane to think that kids have to play in a bulletproof park for their own wellbeing and safety. It gives you the impression of being in prison where you can’t play and enjoy yourself with freedom,” the former Bafana Bafana footballer was quoted as saying.

GFSA: Need for a safe space for children to play

Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, GFSA director Adele Kirsten said that “right now, we have a gang violence epidemic in South Africa”.

“The real purpose of the park is to keep children safe from flying bullets while they play. We know that children 12 years and under are at high risk for being caught in the crossfire.

“Over a 20-year period, nearly half of the children under 12 admitted to Cape Town’s Red Cross Children’s Hospital were victims of crossfire,” Kirsten revealed.

This as the Western Cape recorded 80% of gang-related murders across the country according to the latest crime statistics released in February 2024.

ALSO READ: ‘Prinsloo Gun Leaks’: Gun Free SA takes aim at Saps

What to know about the bulletproof park proposal

According to the proposal, the planned park is set to be fully encased in Level 8 bulletproof glass.

bulletproof park gun free SA GFSA Mitchells Plain
Gun Free SA’s proposed bulletproof play park for children. Image: bulletproofpark.co.za

It would boast all the features of a traditional play space (slides, jungle gyms and monkey bars) with additional safety touches like a panic button and secure entrances as designed by experts. There will also be 24-hour monitoring.

While there are some concerns surrounding the safety of the kids in light of getting to and from the park (the proposal suggests bulletproof vests for little bodies) it’s possible that with some more thought and planning, the bulletproof park idea could extend to other community spaces.

bulletproof park vests
Gun Free SA’s proposed bulletproof vests for children. Photo: bulletproofpark.co.za

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