News | South Africa
A mother of five weeps silently, unable to finish the sentence, “My children were shot while they were sleeping.”
Mymoenah Henson, 49, was woken up one evening in 2019 by her sister, shouting: “They are busy shooting our children in the house.”
Two assailants had entered their house in Westbury, Johannesburg, threatened Henson’s sister at gunpoint and made her wait in the passage while they shot her then 23-year-old son in the chest and his 24-year-old brother in the back.
“When I got to the hospital he was on pipes and a heart machine. He was lying in hospital for a week and my other son had come home on the same night. When he came home, he didn’t know that he was shot and my eldest son told him, ‘But you were also shot’,” Henson recalls.
Two years later, the family is deeply traumatised. The elder of the two brothers can no longer work because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, while the perpetrators have continued to victimise him and shot at him twice since then.
Henson is just one of thousands of parents living in fear of their lives and those of their children in the violent crime-ridden community of Westbury.
Children and youth in this neighbourhood are shot over arbitrary disagreements and guns are almost as easy to come by as the drugs that fuel the neighbourhood’s underworld economy.
Also Read: Cape Town druglords ‘behind Westbury turf wars, killings
The Fast Guns are but one of the groups of ruthless gunmen who “run” the streets of Westbury and exact their wrath on the young. Families of activists and police reservists become walking targets, trapped between the fear and the mistrust of the police.
On the weekend of Valentine’s Day this year, 4o-year-old Rashieda Mohammed’s 15-year-old son came running home after older gang members shot at him five times. He outran the shooters, but only just, according to Mohammed.
“Just before he came, I heard the gunshots going off. As I approached the gate he fell on to the gate, actually. When he came into the house, I asked him what’s going on. He told me, ‘Mommy they shot at me. I asked who, he told me Archie,” she says, referring to a well-known gang leader in the area.
The assailants continue to threaten her and her family to this day. That her husband is a police reservist may have something to do with it, she suggests.
Cape Town-based lobby group the Action Society has highlighted the pervasive issue of gun violence and the lack of effort by the police to remove illegal firearms from vulnerable communities and follow up on cases of gang violence.
This after police in the Cape Flats community admitted that FDA (Forensic Data Analysis) shut the PCEM system (Property Control and Exhibit Management) down in June 2020. Police also apparently had to shut down the firearm permit system (FPS), which manages thousands of legal firearms, as well.
The FPS manages 180,000 handguns and 350,000 semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. SAPS has yet to answer questions posed by The Citizen on this.
The control of gun possession has been highlighted as an emerging problem nationwide in the wake of the death of Lt Colonel Charl Kinnear, a top SAPS investigator who was on the brink of busting a firearm licensing racket involving officers, licensing schools and underworld kingpins.
Police losing firearms to theft and other events has proven to be a major cause for concern. Police Minister Bheki Cele admitted in 2019 that the SAPS had lost more than 4,347 firearms and more than 9.5 million rounds of ammunition in the space of six years.
Between April 2019 and March 2020, there were 7,351 murders committed using firearms.
The clamping down on a massive illegal firearm trade racket run by former top cop Christiaan Prinsloo came after thousands of firearms entered the underworld with the help SAPS officials. In 2016 he was sentenced to an effective 18 years in prison on charges of racketeering, fraud and illegal firearm and ammunition possession.
Also Read: Bheki Cele expresses wish to disarm all private citizens in SA
“Data from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) shows compelling evidence that, after the weapons that were stolen by Prinsloo and subsequently sold into the Western Cape areas to gang leaders, we have seen a dramatic increase in gun-related deaths in the Western Cape, particularly within the Cape Flats.”
She says the firearm registry is but one part of the gun control system which has proven ineffective in South Africa because it is not being properly implemented. According to her, the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) is currently running on a dual system of electronic and manual capturing. This apparently creates the perfect opportunity for corruption and fraud when the two systems are not “talking to each other”.
“This is a systemic weakness across the chain and we don’t see any evidence of SAPS actively trying to correct this.”
The drug and arms trade in the Cape Flats is intermingled with that of many other townships across South Africa. This includes Westbury, where two years ago, protests broke out following multiple murders by hitmen believed to be from the Cape Flats.
According to community members at the time, some of these killings happened at the behest of gang leaders who were involved in trafficking drugs from Cape Town.
Also Read: Kinnear didn’t have to die, says Gun Free SA
Spokesperson for Gun Free South Africa Adele Kirsten says children become embroiled in gun violence both as bystanders and participants in many dysfunctional communities.
Children often become victims of gun violence by being caught in the crossfire of gang wars. But in neighbourhoods where criminal gang activity is high, children are recruited into the system at a young age and are often perpetrators from as young as 15 years old.
At national level, gang violence and gun related deaths have escalated, contributing to the unrelenting murder rate in the country.
SAPS crime data shows a sharp increase in the murder rate between 2016 and 2020, starting with 4,305 murders in the 2016/17 period and shooting up to 5,398 in the 2019/20 period. To date, from April last year, at least 3,466 murders have been recorded.
According to GFSA data, there were 7,351 gun-related murders committed between April 2019 and March 2020.
“That is because of the sudden influx of guns into these areas that we have seen over a five-year period. That is why it is important globally to drive the message that easy availability of guns increases gun-related deaths,” says Kirsten.