The army has been deployed and efforts by the anti-gang unit to tackle crime have been ramped up but it is not enough, say moms who marched against “living in a war zone” across the Western Cape on Thursday.
“Senzenina, what have we done. What have we done…”
The struggle song rang out loudly with haunting clarity as the Moms Move for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation organisation kicked off Women’s Month with a vigil in the Castle’s courtyard.
Held on the first day of August, it commemorates the lives of children lost to gangsterism and violence over the last year.
Since the start of the year, more than 45 people have been murdered in Hanover Park in the Western Cape alone. This past weekend, a woman was “shot in the face”, one of the moms shared; a scene that either unfolds in front of the children who live there, or the children are the victims themselves.
The 300-strong gathering was made up of mothers of murdered children, religious leaders, non-profit organisations, residents and young children who feel the full effect of the rampant gun violence almost daily.
Hardest-hit is the Cape Flats.
Speaking to the marchers, founding member Avril Andrews’ grandson, Levi, made an emotional plea for the gangsters to “stop killing babies and children”.
He has “become an activist in response to the situation”.
“We couldn’t lie to him anymore, he knew when we were going to court or a march in the name of his father,” says an emotional Andrews. Levi’s father, Alcardo, was killed in 2015, aged just 27. The case is ongoing some four years later.
“It is at a sensitive stage right now,” says Andrews. “My grandson has since become involved because we have had to be open and honest with him. He is also living with this violence daily.”
Lesley Wyngaard, another founding member of the group, also lost her son Rory, 23, in 2015. She is just as vocal in her belief that the state is failing to address the deep-rooted ills within their neighbourhoods.
“We see how SAPS guns are circulating in the community. My son’s killer is a free man after the case was riddled with inadequacies. Sometimes it feels like the perpetrators have more rights than our children.
“When you hear the gunshots, the emotions come flooding back. You can’t step out of your door and you constantly live in fear.”
Martine Gaffley, whose son Ashtivon was gunned down amid the violence earlier in June, was also in attendance. The month is on record as being one of the bloodiest on the Cape Flats.
Gaffley says she is at a loss for words to describe how she feels.
“I feel confused more than anything else.
“It makes me sad to think that I had to lose my son to this. He was a good boy in many ways. I sent him to many different schools to try and get him out of this situation. But the gangsters messed with him daily.”
Following the vigil, the group marched to parliament to hand over a memorandum of demands.
Valdie van Reenen-Le Roux, who heads up the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture in Woodstock, also spoke at the vigil. She detailed how the need for solutions needed to come from the community – which is the crux of a report the centre is due to issue.
The centre has overseen a “people’s commission of inquiry into the violence across the Western Cape, with little support from funders or the government”, says Le Roux.
Van Reenen-Le Roux says the centre had initially called on then-premier Helen Zille for support, and “while the provincial government wanted to have academics do a high-level report on the situation affecting our communities, they haven’t lived it like we have. This is why we looked to get the input from the community to delve into how we can solve this issue”.
“This is not only the responsibility of the SAPS alone. This has to be a collective process, as the responsibility lies with all of us.”
According to her, they surveyed about 1,891 children across the suburban areas of the Western Cape to find out the extent of the trauma they were experiencing and to find solutions by asking them what type of community they wanted to live in.
She is painfully aware that they have not had the resources to extend this to the rural areas as well – where she says it is “desperately needed”.
She explains how it was done through an artistic process of getting the children to draw their responses on postcards – with the understanding that they are “dealing with children and needed to be sensitive about how they address the situation or the questions they asked”.
Van Reenen-Le Roux says she is astounded by the things children are having to deal with at such a young age, with cases of children being “groomed in the parks in their area” just one of the things coming to light.
“Schools are not a safe place for them either. The children have shared how they watch what is happening on the playground as they then know if there will be a gang fight after school.
“They should just be playing and enjoying themselves – now they have to think about ways and means to be safe. It is so deep what the children are sharing and having to deal with, they are saying ‘who is there for us’. Nobody. We will have to take care of ourselves,” she says.
“It is just so sad.”