AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Saturday 8 December 2012
Last update 7 December 2012 10:48 pm
The coffin lies open in the crowded living room, before beginning its final journey to a graveyard in Cape Town’s ganglands.
It’s a path that is rarely trod by visitors to the “Mother City,” South Africa’s top tourist destination.
But it is a well-worn route for those standing around the coffin of the 21-year-old who was gunned down in the shadow of Table Mountain.
“People just die around you all the time,” said mourner Miche Moses, 22, who witnessed her first killing when growing up aged 10 or 11.
“The majority of the funerals we go to is because people die by gunshot or a knife wound. We hardly ever go to somebody that’s died of old age, of cancer, of diabetes or something,” she said.
The sandy, windswept Cape Flats is home to scores of rival street gangs who have carved up the gritty, poverty-ridden neighborhoods into lucrative drug turfs, to be defended at all costs.
The bloodshed has reached such levels that calls have been made for the army to be deployed to help an overwhelmed police force. On average a life is lost to gang violence every five days.
“I live my life knowing that I could be killed,” Franklin Blaauw, 27, a gang member for three years in hard-hit Bonteheuwel, said.
“You do or die — you do something about it or you get dead doing nothing.” Such is the allure of gangs that pupils at a local high school were asked who among them were members and more than half stood up, said Pastor Stanley Martin.
“There’s a lot of peer pressure,” he said. “They are targeted to push drugs and in doing so, they get money from the drug lords,” said Martin.
Much of the cash is spent on brand name clothes that their families can’t buy afford to buy.
“It gets into the thing where they are so hooked that they can’t get out and they are even scared for their life. They don’t let go of you easily if you’re a gangster because you know too much.” Like mothers who have taught their children to head deep into the house if trouble flares, churches have also cut back on activities at night out of fear that people might be caught in crossfire.
“People are very fed up,” said Martin who oversaw the burial of the slain 21-year-old whose 11-month-old baby son slept on oblivious at his grave side.
“They are fed up, but everybody is just talking under cover. Most of the people are scared to speak out because they might be targeted by the gangs.” When South Africa opened up its doors after the isolation of apartheid, it also opened the floodgates for drugs and international drug syndicates to enter the country.
On the Cape Flats, gang culture found a fertile breeding ground.
The area was where the former racist regime dumped “coloreds” — people of mixed race — who were removed from suburbs deemed for whites only.
“(People) were put here without choice. So that in itself brought about resistance, frustration and people had no identification,” said Llewellyn Jordaan who works at a local NGO.
“It was a typical, classic apartheid model. It was just a sort of sleeping dormitory and that is what it has remained for the last 40 years.” The ghetto-like suburbs face a raft of chronic challenges: absentee fathers, joblessness and an influx of crystal meth — all which feed a sense of disillusionment when it comes to options other than the gang brotherhood.
Yet a peace process in the Lavender Hill neighborhood has brokered a truce of nearly six months between the powerful gang bosses, offering hope that mind-sets can and will change.
The gang leaders now meet weekly and have replaced violence with communication, pushing aside the knowledge that someone in the room might have shot a friend.
“The peace process wasn’t easy,” admitted Igzaan Abrahams, 36, who started out in a prison gang while serving an 18-year-sentence and is known as the “mediator.”
“It opened a new chapter for us. There was nothing in the past for us like that... sitting together.” It’s not the first truce to be called. But the organizers hope that it will prove to be a breakthrough.
“Everything is not going to change overnight. We’re not naive, you know what I’m saying. These guys are involved with whatever activities. I haven’t seen it, I’m not interested to see it,” pastor Stanford Hill said.
“For me the important thing now is that we’re working with their minds, we’re in a direction where they’re starting to think differently.”