Maverick Citizen: Cape Town's Gang War
‘They shot my son in the head, four times, while he was lying on the ground’
Most of the mothers interviewed as part of Maverick Citizen’s series on Cape Town’s gang war struggled to get to the part where their children were gunned down. It is understandable that the story, the images, the memories are too raw and painful. However, Fiona Steleki sits down, faces the camera and plunges in.
“I am from Nyanga. I am married with two children. I am left with a daughter. In October 2014, my son was gunned down by a known gangster. They had threatened him for a long time, they wanted him to join the gangs.”
Fiona Steleki, 43, smiles as a tear rolls down her cheek. “He was a very sweet boy. The day before he died I told him he must rather stay at home, I wanted him to stay with me.”
She relays what took place the following day:
“I heard some shouting outside. My mother’s neighbours came running and told me that my son had been gunned down and that my husband and his brother were already at the day hospital. Someone told me my son is late, but I insisted my father take me to where he is; I needed to see for myself that he is no more.”
Steleki’s breathing is shallow as she continues her story of her “sweet boy” Shaun Zuko Steleki, 16. When she arrived at the day hospital Shaun was lying on a bed, still dressed in his school uniform. Her son was dead. “I took his tie, shoes, socks and belt. I can’t explain, I just felt like doing it. There was not much blood.”
Steleki called the doctor in the emergency room and begged him. “I said, no man, he’s not dead, just give him another check. I now realise if he had survived he would have been a vegetable.
“I spent 16 years with this boy. I am not okay with the fact that he is just gone.”
Did Steleki get some of the details of what happened on that day? She sighs, trying to order her thoughts, composes herself and attempts to put the puzzle pieces together.
“My husband has been going around the neighbourhood trying to find out exactly what happened, to try and find the right story. What we do know is that the culprits, the gangsters were pretending to help Shaun, to be his friend. They wanted Shaun to join the gangs, they were the same age as him. Shaun went to school in Gugulethu and some of his classmates were from an opposing gang. Shaun faced one gang where he lived and another where he went to school.”
Steleki recalls Shaun arriving home from school one day with a bullet, telling her that the gangsters who threatened to kill him if he didn’t join the gang were keeping a bullet for him.
“I told him, ‘Keep on praying, boy’, because we know the gangsters are untouchable and going to the police is a waste of time.”
Steleki says Shaun had made it clear to the gangsters that he was not interested in joining, a decision that proved fatal.
Steleki has established that Shaun was walking home from school, earphones plugged in, listening to his favourite music on his phone.
“He started running when he saw a car pulling up with some of the gang boys. He tried to run, tripped and fell on the pavement. He tried to get up and run again, but slipped. The car turned around, they stopped, got out and shot him in the head, four times, while he was lying on the ground.
“He was lying on the ground, apologising to them, asking him what did he do, begged them to spare his life, but they still shot him.”
“The gangs are terrible in our community, they rob people, they smoke drugs.
“I know who killed my son,” Steleki says matter-of-factly. “I confronted the gangster who did it. I yelled at him, I said, ‘I know you, you killed my son’. I was crying and screaming asking him over and over again, ‘Why did you kill my son?’”
Steleki says some people made fun of her breakdown calling her crazy, a drama queen and a “psycho”.
“I thought I would be spared more life with him. But I feel as if I have lost everything. Everything went black in my life. When a counsellor told me to take life easy, I asked her if she ever lost a child and until she has, she cannot tell me to take life easy.”
Steleki says there were witnesses but they would never come forward because if they do, they themselves become victims.
How does she remember Shaun? She grins. “He was very caring, a mommy’s boy. He would clean and cook and phone me every day to ask me if I was okay. Ask me if he can chop up any veggies for supper. On my birthday or Valentine’s Day he would always surprise me with a gift.”
Steleki also remembers the boy with the sense of humour who quizzed her when she was pregnant with her daughter, his sister.
“He asked me whether he was not enough and informed me he is very comfortable being my only child,” she smiles, adding that he was a loving boy, a good listener, a problem solver, a people’s person, “my helper, my right hand”.
“When he was around I was feeling safe and happy,” she adds.
Have the murderers been brought to book? Steleki makes a shocking revelation.
“There have been no charges, nothing was done. The Gugulethu police came on the day he died, but they never came again.”
No charges have been laid, nobody has been arrested, nothing.
Steleki says she has in the past confronted the suspected murderer, but later got scared. “I realised they were going to kill me too.”
She has started a support group in Nyanga for other mothers who have lost their children. There are already six women in the WhatsApp group.
“We all share the same pain, one mother has lost three children.” They share messages on the birthdays of their children, motivational messages and encouragement.
“I know I have to find my own way, I need to live a new chapter. I had to find my own way through the depression because I know Shaun would not want to see me grieving forever. I have become protective of my daughter who is still severely traumatised.
“Us mothers give birth to these children, we give them love and the gangsters come and kill our children, come and cut their lives short for no good reason. There is so much that needs to change to put an end to this.” MC
Photo by Thom Pierce