MAVERICK CITIZEN: CAPE TOWN’S GANG WAR
Mother prays next to son’s slain body asking for a few minutes to say good-bye
‘And you know, at night when I lay my head down to sleep. That picture of him, of my son’s body, it won’t go away.’ — Nabeweya Solomon, 42, Hanover Park.
There is a war on Cape Town’s Cape Flats, leaving grieving mothers and families to try to pick up their shattered lives after burying the young men, most of them innocent bystanders in a senseless, but bloody gang war.
When a young man is mowed down in cold blood, even getting an ambulance to the scene is not a simple matter — paramedics need a police escort or they are at risk of becoming another statistic in the gang war. Post-traumatic stress disorder is part and parcel of living in these neighbourhoods where counselling is unaffordable for most.
Police and detectives are either unable to prevent or investigate the murders because they themselves are overwhelmed or on the payroll of the gangsters.
A group of mothers on the Cape Flats has formed Moms Move for Justice as a form of support and a way to talk to those “who understand”, but also to seek legal justice from a system that is failing to deliver any form of justice or closure.
Maverick Citizen is publishing the stories of some of these heartbroken mothers, as well as voices of experts who have intimate knowledge of the causes of gang violence.
These heartbroken mothers are telling their deeply personal and devastating stories because they seek solidarity and do not want others to suffer their fate — not because they want pity or charity. Their stories are cries for help, a desperate plea to try to change a system and a way of life that gives unemployed young men very few options outside joining gangs.
Their stories must be told, must be heard and must be acted on. Not only by the government, but by civil society and anyone who has an interest in rebuilding South Africa.
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No mother should sit beside her 16-year-old son’s bullet-riddled body for two hours, waiting for an ambulance. In a soft, precise voice, Nabeweya Solomon, 42, from Hanover Park, relays the harrowing night of September 18 2017, when a childhood friend allegedly shot her son, Masood. The shooting happened 20m from their home. Masood had left the house after dark, to buy an ice sucker at a nearby shop.
“My son was there on the pavement for two hours. I was sitting there with him, holding him, recalls Nabeweya. “He lived a little longer, say around 45 minutes. After 45 minutes my cousin, she’s done paramedic work, she felt for his pulse, but there was nothing. The ambulance took two hours because in Hanover Park, well, the ambulances need a police escort to enter this place.”
After the shooting, Masood lay very still on his stomach. The image of ambulance staff turning his body over remains etched in Nabeweya’s mind.
“I sat there waiting by him all that time. But… so when they took him, when they turned him around. I thought: ‘Oh my God’. The people from the ambulance, they cut open his sweater. His chest was swollen. So the next day the doctor explained to me, the bullet that went right through, stopping next to his heart. And you know what we discovered? We didn’t even know. When my child was shot, the first shot was in his mouth. We only heard that during the second court date, when the detective read out the forensics.”
Nabeweya’s voice grows quiet. She takes out a crumpled tissue.
“And you know, at night when I lay my head down to sleep,” she says. “That picture of him, of my son’s body, it won’t go away.”
Nabeweya and her husband Haroon, a painter, share a house with Nabeweya’s parents in Hanover Park. They had five children, now only four. Their eldest daughter Koelthum, 22, works at a local fishery. Their other daughters are Gouwa, 16, Mastoera, 9, and Ashura, 3.
“Any mother, if her child is laying there with three bullets — or whatever — in his body. She would ask God: ‘God, please just let my child live.’ But in that moment, that wasn’t on my mind. It’s almost like I knew my child was lost. What I prayed for that night, I was asking God to just give Masood a few minutes, just a few minutes for his whole family to come say goodbye. And God granted us that.”
Hanover Park is torn by bitter violence between two rival gangs: the Mongrels and the Americans.
“You see, on our side there are the Americans,” says Nabeweya. “And on the other side of us, the Mongrels. So the Mongrels came to our side, to look for their enemy. They couldn’t find anyone. But then they saw my son, and they shot him. It wasn’t a stray bullet. The thing is, the person who shot my child, is someone my child knew. They grew up together, they used to play games as kids. Toy cars and cards.”
Nabeweya says the SAPS needs to greatly improve.
“When the police arrested the accused who shot my child, they didn’t even have a profile of him, even though he had three recent cases of drugs at court,” she says.
“I went to the police station in Philippi every day, to the investigating officer, telling them you must do this, you must do that. I had to take a picture off Facebook to give to them. I told them: ‘This is the perpetrator.’ Despite all of that, it took 103 days for them to arrest him.”
At present, the accused is detained in Pollsmoor Prison. His last court appearance was scheduled for 20 November at the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder. What frustrates Nabeweya, she says, is that the accused’s mother lied, providing a false alibi for her son.
“The pain. I can’t explain it,” says Nabeweya. “When I see Masood’s toys… at 16 years he was still riding those remote control cars, playing. Those cars, they’re packed away in a box now. I raised my son to be good, to listen when someone older than him is talking. To take school and his education seriously. My husband helped me. We have a good marriage, my husband helped me with the children.”
Nabeweya’s hair protrudes from a scarf around her neck. She’s been growing her hair since the night Masood was killed. She used to keep it short. Her son teased her that he preferred her hair long.
His final words to her as he left the house that fateful night had been: “Mummy, no man, so when are you growing your hair?” MC
Photos by Thom Pierce
Maverick Citizen is profiling the lives and voices of 10 mothers who lost their sons, side-by-side with opinion pieces by, among others, Rehana Rossouw, Don Pinnock and Gun Free South Africa. We have already published the stories of Avril Andrews, Natasha Mulumba and Marlene Ann Cozett.