Residents of Manenberg in Cape Town are fed up with gang violence and are taking to the streets in a display of frustration and resistance. “Taking Back Our Streets” is an initiative organised by Glenda Gain of the Manenberg Community Work Programme (CWP) in partnership with the South African Police Service. Together they organise weekly marches through the most dangerous streets in Manenberg. By SHAUN SWINGLER.
“We didn’t have a big crowd a few weeks ago,” Gain says, “because the night before it was a warzone and people were quite scared to come out and march the next day.” But today is different. It’s Wednesday, midweek and early 200 people have gathered at the Manenberg circle waving placards, ready to march.
Photo: Approximately 200 protestors turned up. Numbers were thought to be higher for this march because gangs had agreed to a ceasefire for the month of Ramadan. (Shaun Swingler)
“We don’t provoke the gangsters when we march, and we don’t blame anyone, we just march. We just want to tell everyone that enough is enough,” says Gain. “We actually had gangsters marching with us once. We’d meet some of the HLs [Hard Livings] on the one corner and they’ll march with us until the other corner, then the Americans will join us at corner after that.”
Photo: The march is organised in partnership with the South African Police Service. There were a number of officers and patrol vans that joined in the march. (Shaun Swingler)
The protestors held placards with slogans that read: “Ons is gatvol”, “I want to play free” and “Forward to a drug free, gun free and gang free Manenberg”.
Photo: Two young girls hold signs reading “Stop the drug abuse” and “I want to play free”. (Shaun Swingler)
“When there’s a shooting it creates a division in the community and the division makes it difficult to make a positive change,” says Lieutenant Ian Bennett of SAPS.
“We feel it is very important to support initiatives like this because they bring the community closer together. If we bring everyone together: the Muslims, the Christians, we’re not just marching against crime, we’re helping to show the community the good parts of Manenberg too. There are some places that these marchers can’t walk through by themselves. When we’re all together we can walk all over Manenberg.”
Photo: A wall mural reads: “Help us change Manenberg for the best”. (Shaun Swingler)
“I’m very happy to be involved,” says Yvonne Madatt, a CWP worker, “because your child is my child and this march is really for the kids. We put the children in front of the march because it’s about the kids, and the gangsters have kids too and those kids will also want peace.”
According to Bennett, in the last three weeks, SAPS has arrested three teens in Manenberg between the ages of 13 and 15 for gang-related crimes, and on Tuesday night they arrested two gangsters aged 21 and 22. Seven people have been killed in gang crossfire in the past two weeks.
“Young people are used by gang leaders because they think they will get off lightly and not go to prison,” says Bennett. “The kids think this too so they join gangs more easily. We need to discourage this thinking that nothing will happen.”
“We will put offending kids in child care facilities and diversion programmes. It’s not prison but… We need to educate these kids and show them that there is more to do than sit on street corners and flash gang signs and we are doing this through various holiday programmes run in partnership with the City of Cape Town Social Development and Metro Police.”
As the marchers move through the litter-strewn streets of one of the worst affected gang areas in the province, the group sings: “Genoeg is genoeg – Ons is moeg [Enough is enough – We are tired].” And as we walk, Gain points out the sites of various gang shootings and killings over the past few months.
Photo: There were numerous women and children who joined the march as it moved through the Manenberg streets. (Shaun Swingler)
The large number of marchers who have turned up today is likely to do with the month-long ceasefire that the Americans, Hard Livings and Ghettos gangs had agreed to only days earlier. The agreement was reached to enable Muslim residents observing Ramadan to move about after sunset without having to fear for their lives.
“It’s not an end to the violence: they’re just postponing it,” says Gain. “We don’t want a ceasefire, we want peace.”
“It’s nice to see that the community does have an influence on what the gangsters do,” says Bennett. “But all we ask is that the ceasefire is sustained. It’s very sad that these peace talks seldom hold any water.”
Photo: A woman and her baby watch as protestors march on. (Shaun Swingler)
The march was generally well-received by residents in the area; however, some were unhappy that protestors were marching during a ceasefire, saying it was a waste of time. But Gain insists that if they were to stop they would lose the momentum gained over the last few months of marching.
Photo: Local residents observing the march. (Shaun Swingler)
The only provocation came towards the end of the march when a drunken alleged gangster took exception to my presence and hurled a rock, missing me by a wide margin.
Photo: Local residents observing the march. (Shaun Swingler)
As we returned to the meeting place, Ismail Salie, a CWP worker, spotted an alleged Jakkals gangster sitting in a parked taxi. The man had allegedly stolen a bicycle from the CWP grounds last week. Ismail pointed the man out to the police. The alleged thief noticed the commotion and got out of the taxi. He took note of the police and the angry crowd and decided to make a run for it. The police chased him on foot with a patrol van following closely behind. The cops eventually caught up with the alleged thief, taking him into custody while the crowd chanted: “Genoeg is genoeg!”
Photo: An alleged bicycle thief and gangster is apprehended by police after the march. (Shaun Swingler)
“We need everybody’s support,” says Gain. “I was thinking; imagine if we had the whole of Manenberg’s support. It would be amazing. We mustn’t just keep it in Manenberg, we need to get hold of leaders in other areas because gang fights are not just in Manenberg, it’s the whole of the cape flats and it’s time for us to do something about it.” DM
Main photo: Children participated in Wednesday’s “Take Back The Streets” march in Manenberg (Shaun Swingler)