Maverick Citizen: Cape Town’s Gang War
Reflections on losing a son: There are a lot of ‘if onlys’
Maverick Citizen is featuring the stories of a group of heartbroken mothers who have lost their children in the gang war on the Cape Flats. These 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 also pleas for help, a desperate plea to try to change a system, a way of living, which gives unemployed young men very few options outside joining gangs that end up killing men and young, innocent boys. Their stories need to be told, need to be heard and need to be acted on.
Lesley Wyngaard’s life made a 180-degree turn when her son Rory was shot outside a Cape Flats nightclub, an innocent bystander who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wyngaard, 59, strikes one as a woman who has over the years learnt to contain her emotions, to wait for quiet moments when she is on her own to cry and be sad. She spends most of her time working for the Alcardo Andrews Foundation which runs the Moms Move for Justice, an organisation which supports mothers who have lost their children in the gang violence.
Wyngaard gave up her 23-year job as a communications professional at Absa (more about that lower down) after Rory died and has dedicated her life to work with the Foundation’s Avril Andrews to guide, help support and “walk the court” with the mothers. “I know very well what the inside of a court looks like,” Wyngaard smiles, her eyes twinkling behind spectacles.
It takes some coaxing to take her back to the night Rory died. Rory worked at the Waterfront and was planning to attend a 21st birthday later that evening. “My husband Jeremy and I were in bed sleeping when his granny called at 6.40am, he lived with her, and told us that Rory had never come home. Ten minutes later there was another call from a policeman and all I heard Jeremy say was ‘Wat makeer Meneer, is daar iets fout?’ (What is wrong sir, is there something wrong?).
“I could hear it sounded serious and Jeremy walked in and told me that our son had been murdered, that Rory was dead and that he was at the hospital in Mitchells Plain.
Wyngaard jumps to what led to the shooting. “We were told he was inside the nightclub and went outside for a smoke. There was some debacle among gangsters going on inside the nightclub which had nothing to do with Rory. This man shot one person and then started shooting wildly, this is when he shot Rory in the back of the head.”
Wyngaard’s story returns to the hospital. “We got to the hospital, but the file they had, had no name on it and we went to the trauma room where his body was lying, his head covered. In that moment I thought maybe it’s all a mistake, just a terrible mistake. Jeremy, my sister and her husband went ahead of me to check the body. The police didn’t want me to look, but I broke loose and went to go and see his face. The bullet had struck the back of his skull and there was a lot of blood. It was so sudden, so final.”
How did the police track down Jeremy and Lesley to inform them of Rory’s death? “On Rory’s phone he has his girlfriend’s number saved as Wifey and so they phoned her and she gave them Jeremy’s number.”
Lesley remembers her boy as busy, but wonderfully creative, “extremely cute” and sociable with a love for hip-hop dancing, but she is honest about the Rory that did get involved in drugs “before turning his life around” two years previously.
“He was working at Cotton On where he was an excellent worker, he had been with his girlfriend for 18 months and was just a very happy chappie, he was getting it together.”
On 29 November 2015, Rory was dead, his lifeless body sprawled on a pavement outside a nightclub in Mitchells Plain, shot in the back of the head by a stray bullet.
“It is sad, just like that somebody took his life away.”
Lesley last saw Rory a week before he died. “It was his brother’s matric ball and we all gathered at the house. I have a photo of Rory on one knee tying his brother Luke’s shoelace. He told him that day, ‘don’t do what I did, be different’ ”.
“Now, looking at the family photos from that day, it was really a farewell.”
Wyngaard has tried to join the dots, to try to understand what happened the night her life changed.
“We were told that a week before there had been a fight in one of the nightclubs and that night it came to a head, leading to the fight and the shooting”.
The first time Wyngaard saw the man who shot her son, was in court.
She takes a deep breath. “The case was dismissed because the police failed to do some of the administrative work they were supposed to have done and we were told that the prosecutor also presented a very weak case, so the odds were stacked against us getting a successful prosecution.”
“We were told this perpetrator had other cases against him, an armed robbery at a business in which the evidence simply disappeared. The docket disappeared and the camera footage capturing the business robbery disappeared.”
Today, Rory’s killer is a free man.
“I was very angry and hurt when the judge ruled that the perpetrator is free to go, case dismissed. People clapped and all I wanted to do was go to him and tell him what a murderer he is. The night he shot Rory he had shot another person and injured another. There were two witnesses at the time, but somebody got to the one witness and this person lied under oath.
“The club is now closed down, but three months after his death we went to the club because I wanted to see where he died; his blood was still on the pavement.”
Lesley says the family struggled a lot after Rory’s death, especially his brother who dropped out of university. Lesley left her job after her manager told her:
“If I don’t pull up my socks he is putting me on a performance management programme. I had just lost my son, I was devastated, but he told me I had to get over it. Sunday mornings I would cry at the thought of going to work and I decided, enough and resigned. I went for counselling, but there were days when I just lay in bed and cried. I don’t think one ever gets over it.
“It helps me to help other mothers in the same situation. A lot of people judge us, but until people have walked in the shoes of a mom who has lost a child, they won’t really understand. At times I still grieve as if it was yesterday.”
What needs to change? Lesley sighs.
“The community need to play their role. Too little reporting is happening from inside the community. We don’t have enough investigating officers. The parole system is corrupt and broken. Rory’s perpetrator was out on bail at the time. Witnesses are afraid to testify.”
What are her final thoughts?
“Sometimes we blame ourselves, we question what we could have done better. You have feelings of guilt. Did I raise my son properly? If only… there are a lot of if onlys.” MC
Photographs by Thom Pierce.