South Africa

Maverick Citizen: Cape Town's Gang War

Slain son before he was gunned down: ‘They want to kill you mommy’

Slain son before he was gunned down: ‘They want to kill you mommy’
“I held his hands, started talking to him and praying for him and I felt how his hands got colder. I started calling him – ‘Zinny, Zinny!’ He opened his eyes and I could see my child is busy dying, his eyes blinking and closing.” - Sally Ann Jacobs, Westbank (Photo: Thom Pierce)

Sally Ann Jacobs sits in a chair, clutching a tissue. Her hands tremble. She has had her hair done and is wearing a baby pink outfit. She tries to put on a brave face as she tells her story, but every now and then she stops and the sobs tear through her body.

Jacobs starts her story 21 years ago when she became the owner of a house in Wesbank, then a new Cape Flats development outside of Cape Town. After a lot of moving and difficulty in settling, including commuting to Worcester, she finally had a home of her own and looked forward to building a future for herself. People were slowly trickling into Wesbank and creating a new community. But as the population grew, so did the problems. Soon the streets of Wesbank were occupied by gangsters, drugs were rife, and people were getting killed almost every day.

In October 2017, Jacobs joined the statistics of mothers who lost their children, innocents caught in the crossfire of the senseless gang violence. The community she lived in had become hostile, kids were shot every weekend, and there was a constant ringing of gunshots throughout her neighbourhood.

Jacobs’ nightmare started on 30 September 2015. She heard gunshots ringing outside, 14 bullets had landed in her cousin Deniel’s body. On 1 October, Deniel, only 19 years old, died in Tygerberg Hospital. “Eleven of the bullets were still lodged in his body when he died. And that’s when everything changed,” said Jacobs. Nobody was ever arrested for Deniel’s murder.

Deniel’s murder has also left his heartbroken mother in Beaufort West, trying to pick up the pieces. “She was in a bad motor car accident and can’t work,” said Jacobs.

Deniel had come to live with her in Wesbank while he was trying to complete his schooling and find work. He was not involved in any gangs. When Deniel was shot dead, her son Zinedine was with him when the gunshots went off. Zinedine ran into the house to alert his mother. He had seen the entire shootout, and because of that Zinedine became a marked man.

The whispers started at school, people would tell Jacobs that her cousin’s murderers were set on killing Zinedine as he was a witness to the murder. Still Jacobs tried to create a normal life for her son, he continued going to school. But as the threats increased, she pulled him out of school fearing for his life.

“Zinedine was scared. He was afraid to leave the house,” recalls Jacobs.

Despite Zinedine being removed from school the threats continued, soon Jacobs was told she was also going to be killed. “People in the community would come to me and say Jacobs, you need to leave, you are not safe here,” she said.

Her instinct was to get her child out of danger. She sent him to live with his grandmother for a while, but Zinedine struggled immensely without his mom. He could not sleep at night without her, and eventually his health started to deteriorate. Zinedine’s grandmother eventually told Jacobs her son was not coping without her, and that it would be best for him to come home to his mother. Left with no other options, Jacobs brought Zinedine back to Wesbank.

Jacobs pauses before she starts to relay the part of the story she finds almost too hard and painful to repeat. One afternoon, Zinedine was walking home with a friend, when a car pulled up and a man started firing at him. Zinedine survived the attack, but he had three bullet holes in his hands as he tried to protect himself. “He was trying to push the bullets away from his face, so he ended up with two bullets in one hand and one in the other,” said Jacobs through tears.

Desperate for help, she turned to the police. She told them about the threats she had been getting and pleaded for help, but nothing came of it. “They should have done something to protect us, they could have moved him away or put him in witness protection, but they didn’t,” she said despondently.

After that incident, Jacobs believed that soon, both her and her son would be killed together.

“But unfortunately, he was alone on that Sunday when they got him,” she said Zinedine was outside a shop where he used to work, when someone opened fire on him, killing him in the street. They shot him point-blank in the face, the bullet entering under his eye.

“He said he was going to do it, and he did,” said Jacobs. Zinedine was just 15 years old when he was shot dead.

Zinedine did not die immediately. A friend ran to Jacobs at home and called her. Jacobs ran over to the scene finding her son sprawled on the pavement.

“I held his hands, started talking to him and praying for him and I felt how his hands got colder. I started calling him – ‘Zinny,  Zinny!’ He opened his eyes and I could see my child is busy dying. Dying. His eyes blinking and closing.  We waited for the ambulance for more than an hour, but I had seen the hole in his head and I knew he was not going to make it.”

Zinedine, Zinny, 15-years-old, died on the streets of the Cape Flats, his devastated mother clutching his hands, desperate for him to stay alive.

Before he died, Zinedine had become increasingly worried about his mother’s safety. “He surprised me one day, because he said to me, ‘They want to kill you mommy, but I will kill them before they do that’,” she recalls.

“My son was suddenly so full of hate, and so angry.”

Before Zinedine’s murder, Jacobs was called to go to the police station, because something had been found in Zinedine’s backpack. When she arrived she was told that Zinedine had been in possession of a zipgun, a homemade firearm, powerful enough to actually hurt or kill someone.

“That’s when I knew I lost him,” said Jacobs softly, “I think he wanted to prove that he would be able to protect me.”

Jacobs has not stopped crying since her son died, Zinedine was her only child and her everything. The pain is still raw. As she relates her story she breaks down frequently.

“I can do nothing, I am woman, I am alone, I can do nothing,” she sobs.

Even after Zinedine was murdered, the police did nothing. Despite being promised that her son’s killer would never see the light of day, he was released on R10,000 bail. Jacobs has bumped into him on several occasions while doing the rounds in Wesbank.

Many mothers in the Cape Flats live with this reality, cases get struck off the role without reason, and often the perpetrators are released back into the streets within hours of their arrests.

Wesbank is still a red zone, the military has been deployed to the area, but even that does very little in terms of keeping the peace.  Jacobs says:

“The minute the army leaves, the shootings start again.”

Now, Jacobs has no idea what she is going to do, she has been trying unsuccessfully for months to sell her house and has been unable to go back to work since Zinedine died. She is so broken that she has very little regard for her own life. “I don’t care, kill me, you killed my child, you killed my baby…nothing will bring my child back, nothing will change my life, because my life has already changed.” MC


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