CAPE TOWN’S GANG WAR
‘Our children are dying like flies’ — mothers grieve as gang-related deaths grip Western Cape
‘The exact same day of losing my son to death, another shooting took place on my road’ – Shanaaz Balaskas (52), Hanover Park.
Western Cape and Cape Town in particular continues to grapple with a surge in gang-related murders. At least 39 children’s lives were lost in the province between January and July 2023, according to quarterly crime statistics released in August by MEC of police oversight and community safety Reagen Allen.
Daily Maverick spoke to some of the heartbroken mothers who lost their children to gang warfare in the past year, as well as community leaders with knowledge of the causes of gang violence.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Violence-torn community in Cape Town campaigns for a society without guns
In an interview with Daily Maverick, Avril Andrews, founder of Moms Move for Justice, and a mother who lost her child to this senseless violence in October 2015, spoke passionately about the growing crisis.
“The number of mothers reaching out for support [as they go through grief] is increasing every day because gang violence is increasing every day,” she said.
“Our young men are in a very vulnerable position because, at some point, they are either mocked or forced to sign up [to be gangsters].”
This is a journey that will never end. As mothers, we exchange cells with our children and they will keep living through us. Yes, a part of us died with them.
Andrews said she found strength in her spirituality and the support of her family to get past the tragic loss of her son.
“It is not an easy journey for a mother. Incidents like these can easily break up a family,” she said.
Fiona Abrahams (45), who lost her son in Hanover Park on 22 January 2023, described the trauma that families are enduring. “A lot of families here in Hanover Park have lost loved ones, and believe me, it’s very traumatic.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: The terrible cost of gangsterism in our lives
Abrahams revealed the tragic fate that befell her son, Tyrese Craig Abrahams. A quiet and forgiving young man who loved playing games and spending time with friends, Tyrese was brutally attacked and stabbed, resulting in his death at the tender age of 21.
“When I arrived at the scene, blood was everywhere,” she said.
She rushed to get her son to the hospital, emphasising the challenges her family faced owing to a lack of proper emergency services in the area due to gang intimidation.
Tragically, Tyrese’s story is not unique. Many youngsters in the area face the constant threat of violence, often for no apparent reason. Witnessing friends being shot and hurt has become a grim reality for them, according to Abrahams.
Abrahams called attention to the shortcomings in the justice system, citing her frustration with the police’s ineffectiveness in dealing with her son’s case and her perception that her son’s murderers are still walking the streets of Hanover Park freely.
My late son was no angel, but he was still my child. No mother wishes to raise their child to become a gangster.
Despite the pain and heartbreak, she implored other families to seek justice for their children.
“Their lives have mattered. This is a journey that will never end. As mothers, we exchange cells with our children and they will keep living through us. Yes, a part of us died with them. Our family gatherings are more tears than laughter. I still go to his grave every chance I get. I still forget and dish his food.”
“He [Tyrese] was a peaceful person, never hurt others and to be remembered for the forgiving person he was, I donated his bone marrow, tissue, skin and bones to Vitanova to save lives as he was still very young.”
A gangster and a dream
Shanaaz Balaskas is the mother of Sulaiman Isaacs, who was shot dead on 16 September 2023. He is the alleged killer of Tyrese Craig Abrahams.
Balaskas told Daily Maverick that although her son was a gangster, he had goals, dreams and ambitions and was on a journey to change to become a better father to his three children.
Isaacs had a vision of starting his own feeding scheme for children, where he hoped to provide decent, filling meals for kids in the morning before school, including a small lunch pack, she said.
Balaskas added: “As a mother, I can confidently tell you that my late son was no angel, but he was still my child. No mother wishes to raise their child to become a gangster. I feel that many other parents can relate, that no child is born or raised to become someone or something that our human race should fear, hence me saying this [but] there is always room for change regardless who or what you are.”
“I clearly remember him approaching many religious as well as community workers to assist him with peace talks for the gang violence within the community.”
Daily Maverick asked what led to Isaacs’s fatal shooting, but Balaskas was very emotional and unable to respond.
Caught in the crossfire
Lesley Wyngaard, a volunteer at Moms Move for Justice, and mother to Rory Wyngaard, who was shot dead in Mitchells Plain, said: “One Sunday morning, very early, my mom called to say that Rory didn’t come home. We just took [it] as he slept over because the last time we heard he was at a 21st birthday party in the area. The same morning my husband got a call from the police to say that Rory was shot and murdered.”
Wyngaard said the reality of the situation hit home when she rushed to Mitchells Plain Hospital to confirm her son’s death after moments of disbelief.
“They took us to the trauma room and there Rory lay with his body covered, that was the worst experience for us,” she added.
According to Wyngaard, a fight allegedly broke out outside a nightclub in the Mitchells Plain area. The perpetrator shot and murdered the person he was fighting, then turned his gun on a crowd and shot two more people. Rory didn’t make it. The other bystander survived.
Sophia Fritz, a Hanover Park community leader, lamented the loss of young lives and the fear gripping neighbourhoods, adding that mothers, often in their fifties and older, stand guard in the mornings to ensure the safety of their children going to work or school.
“Our children are dying like flies, our young girls and boys are dying on a daily basis, and our children don’t have anything to make them happy,” she said.
A series of questions were sent to the Police Minister Bheki Cele for comment, but no response was received before the stipulated deadline.
However, police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm Pojie said: “Gang-related offences and the proliferation of illegal firearms, drugs and other crime generators remain a focus point and priority for the provincial police management. We remain concerned about the killing of youths, whether related to gangs or not or as collateral damage to ongoing warfare.” DM
In November 2019, Maverick Citizen published a series of stories about some of the heartbroken mothers, and spoke to experts with intimate knowledge of the causes of gang violence.