South Africa

#Westbury Shutdown

Community violence as residents fight back against drugs, gangs and shootings

FILE PHOTO: Daily Maverick

Violence erupted in Westbury in Johannesburg on Monday after residents shut down the area demanding that authorities address long-standing issues in the community. Residents admitted that drugs were a problem in the area, but said the issue was also political. Residents accuse authorities of discriminating against the coloured population.

Chaos erupted in Westbury on Monday morning as residents squared off with police following the fatal shooting of a mother and the injury of her 10-year-old son last week. The two were caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out between rival gangs in the area.

Throughout the morning protesting residents hurled projectiles, including rocks and in at least one incident, a petrol bomb, at police who responded by firing rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Monday, residents said this was not just about drugs but was also a political matter that had been left to brew for years. Residents said they are tired of ANC policies which they claim discriminate against coloureds in the country.

What we are saying is that the government should reconsider its policies which discriminate coloureds. This is the beginning of something big. The coloureds are going to go and go. We are tired. We are aware of the ANC’s racist policies,” Keith Haywood, a resident and father said.

Asked how the situation could be turned around, Haywood said the government should first have remorse for the struggling and abandoned coloured population.

Unless this government finds remorse for what they are putting us through, things will get worse. The government is the perpetrator of this violence and we are the victims now,” Haywood said.

Our children are not getting jobs,” continued Haywood.

He warned that if the government continued to ignore coloured people’s concerns, which include drugs and gangs, coloureds will rise up everywhere. Haywood said the ANC was celebrating the end of apartheid, but now they were inflicting the same on coloureds.

The focus should not just be on drugs. This is political. This government needs to wake up,” added Haywood.

Another community member, Marlene Jacobs, said the violence in the area is as a result of the government’s failure to respond to the community’s long-standing problems.

What do you think the people will do? How do you expect the community to react?” Jacobs asked.

Jacobs also criticised the police and said that instead of containing the situation they were encouraging it by following rioters and shooting them deep inside the area.

What are the police doing inside now? Why are they shooting from within people’s houses?” Jacobs asked. She alleged that after the gang-related incident last week police intimidated the community the entire weekend.

When Daily Maverick asked Jacobs how she hoped the troubled community could move on from all this, Jacobs said police special units must come in the area and search house by house. Jacobs said she would open her own home to the searches.

I want my kids to be safe when they go to school. People die here all the time and the government does nothing. Crime is also on another level, gangsterism is on another level, but all the government can do is shoot at residents,” she said.

Throngs of patients who visited the Rahima Moosa Mother and Child hospital on Monday morning also expressed their fear. Most remained inside the hospital even after their they had completed their consultations, taking refuge from the rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades being fired on unrelenting community members.

A number of people were arrested on the spot. Police spokesperson Kay Makhubele said four suspects were arrested and would be charged with public violence.

We had to use minimum force because the crowd was throwing stones at police. We are monitoring the situation and if there is a need to engage other authorities, we will. We don’t have a report of injuries. Four suspects were arrested for public violence,” Makhubele added.

Makhubele said those who know about the drug dealers in the area should assist law enforcement officials.

We are so scared, we can’t even go to the shops because this place is a playground for criminals,” a security guard at the hospital said.

It’s not safe, especially for us security guards because we are the first line of defence. It’s horrible to wake up to arrive at work to such a volatile situation, and the daily criminal activity. It’s even hard to go to the stores because you might not come back to the hospital,” a third guard at the hospital said.

Community members said they have been begging officials to address their concerns for years, but that officials kept turning a blind eye.

Residents said they would continue with what they dubbed anti-crime protests until they were addressed by government officials.

We want the MEC to come. We want the President to come,” a resident said.

But despite the volatility of the situation the MEC had not arrived in the area by 11am.

Added Haywood: “The government enjoys shooting our people. Where are coloured people’s rights? Black economic empowerment is only for a few.”

When confronted with community members’ claims that it was not entirely about drugs, the area’s PR Councillor Cathy Seefort said the matter became political after community members demanded to see officials, including police Minister Bheki Cele.

That’s where the politics come in, they want the minister,” Seefort said. She said a number of meetings and night vigils were held in the area to try and come up with solutions, but said so far all interventions had proved ineffective.

According to ENCA, the community was also demanding that the army be deployed to help deal with gangsterism and drugs in the area. DM


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