IT WILL TAKE ALL OF US TO FIGHT AND WIN AGAINST GANGS AND DRUGS IN OUR COMMNUNITIES
One of the basic responsibilities any government has towards its citizens is protecting and making them feel safe. Yet, of late, we have seen some communities taking to the streets because of unrelenting insecurity among them caused by the absence of government to provide them with safety and law and order.
We have seen certain communities terrorized by gangsters and criminals to a point where children cannot go to school because of fear of the marauding gangs who rule their streets. The horrors of little or no government to provide safety and law and order are on display in various communities. Unfortunately, those of us who live in gated communities and can afford private security are sometimes oblivious to these realities of gangster violence and the disruptions it causes in the communities where it prevails.
It is against this background that we should welcome the launch last week by President Cyril Ramaphosa of an anti-gang unit. The choice of venue, Hanover Park in the Western Cape, couldn’t have been more appropriate. We have read and heard about how that community has been living under siege of criminals who have no regard for human life. A number of residents in that community have lost their lives senselessly due to gang violence. It has to stop and President Ramaphosa assisted by his Minister of Police Bheki Cele are determined it will stop.
I was touched to read about how the President, prior to the launch, had met a young teenager that morning who had stayed away from school to speak to him about the plight children in Hanover Park face. The teenager told the President she could not walk to school safely. She was afraid she could be raped or kidnapped. She said she wanted to go to school but gangsters were preventing her and many others in her position.
The young teenage’s fears are not unfounded. Ten children were murdered and two wounded in shootings in Cape Town in just less than a year and seven months and this is a conservative list of incidents, a snapshot of a broader disgrace.
In June the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (Bonteheuwel is another suburb in Cape Town that has experienced intense and ongoing gang shootings) issued a heartfelt statement summarising what children were being exposed to.
“Children and youth on the Cape Flats are living in fear and absolute despair due to uncontrolled gang violence.
The government owes it to this teenage girl and many in her position do something about the situation. Through this anti-gang unit, we must reclaim our streets back from the gangsters. We should fully support the President when he says: “We are not going to be silenced or intimidated. We want gangsters to be on the run… the threat from gangsters should not deter us,”
But that is going to need more than just the police working on their own. Community members and civil society in general will need to cooperate with the police, working as their eyes and ears. And this does not apply to Hanover Park alone but to all communities faced with gangsterism and generally high levels of crime. It was encouraging to hear from the President that soon community members will be able to provide information anonymously to law enforcement on suspected gang activity.
Gangsters live in communities. They are sons, brothers and uncles in those communities. Identifying them should not be a problem. The challenge has always been how to report them without endangering the life of the informant. The idea of a hotline where community members can anonymously report gangster activities is welcome.
And we know that gangsters are invariably linked to a criminal economy involving drugs and firearms. The established police unit will go a long way towards weakening the underworld economy whose existence takes away from what government should be duly collecting in terms of taxes.
But the rebuilding of the communities that have been ravaged by drugs and violence will need an integrated interventionist approach. Some of these communities have no recreational facilities for children. In instances where drugs have infiltrated the communities and there are now drug affects, rehabilitation as sports facilities will need to be built.
For now, I take comfort in the fact that President Ramaphosa has heard the cry of the people of Hanover Park (and of many similar areas) and he is doing something about it. At the time of writing this article a number of gangsters and drug pushers had already been arrested.
Let’s join hands together as civil society, church and religious leaders, local and national government and community members to fight this scourge and claim our communities back.
Comment by Ps Ray McCauley
Pastor Ray McCauley is the President has Rhema Family Churches and the Co-Chairperson of the National Religious Leaders Council