Newsmaker: A lone voice in Eldos

2017-03-26 06:00
SWS Founder Dereleen James. Picture: Leon Sadiki City Press

SWS Founder Dereleen James. Picture: Leon Sadiki City Press

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One woman has taken it upon herself to help fight the drug scourge in her community.

It was one woman against an angry community armed with sticks and crowbars.

Eldorado Park mother Dereleen James, 40, became a human shield over the motionless body of a badly beaten man.

With her hands held together as if in prayer, James is seen in a video running around a circle of angry residents, begging them to leave the young man alone. When they did not listen, she stood over his bloodied and battered body.

“Imagining this moment alone still keeps me awake at night. I don’t know what got into me,” she said this week.

“I still get nightmares hearing the voice of one of the attackers asking me to pull his T-shirt under the dead man’s body. They wanted to load his body into a trash bin and dump it, but I stopped them.”

This was the scene just over a week ago in Eldorado Park, southern Johannesburg, where residents decided to take the law into their own hands.

Sick for years of police and government lethargy, they began attacking suspects, released by the police after questioning, in relation to the murder of Junaid Kirsten, 28, whose body was found under the Joe Slovo Park bridge two weeks ago. Kirsten, who lived in Eldorado Park, had been beaten and electrocuted.

James’ worst fear now is that mob justice could soon become the ultimate solution for a community fighting the scourge of drug abuse and crime carried out by users who battle to feed their addictions.

“Our root problem in Eldos is drug abuse. Mobs will leave us with no future at all because all the children are going to end up dead,” she said.

Rising drug problem

Mob justice has been a long time coming.

Four years ago James and other concerned parents from Eldorado Park wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma urging him to get involved and help stem the escalating drug problem in the township.

“A wave of drugs has swept over our community and has taken over our lives ... killing our children by the day. Children as young as eight are drug addicts; boys and girls,” she wrote.

“We no longer get together to boast about the achievements of our children, but rather to share our lives of living hell and despair.”

In response, Zuma, accompanied by ministers Bathabile Dlamini, Angie Motshekga, Nathi Mthethwa and then Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane, paid a visit in May 2013.

“We won’t make promises and not act. We will act. I will drive the programme myself,” Zuma was quoted as saying during his visit.

Years later, James says nothing has changed.

“Surely, Zuma has ordered some interventions for Eldos, but nothing ever happened other than police operations that got prisons packed with drug users and no main suppliers,” she says.

“The Eldos community is not asking for any special attention, but for something to be done to curb drug abuse and save future generations.”

But in the four years since Zuma’s visit, James has changed: the language she speaks today is that of a seasoned politician. She stood as an ANC candidate in ward 18 during last year’s local government elections and Zuma campaigned hard for her. She didn’t win.

Moments after City Press met James outside the Eldorado Park police station on Thursday, a man walked up to her holding the hand of a girl of about 11 years old.

“This man has just told me this young girl has run from home and is living in the streets where she is being fed drugs and sleeping with older men.

“This is not strange in Eldos at all ... We have many other children in the same situation where others are forced into drugs because they have no parents to look after them in households where everyone is a drug user,” James said.

The child was taken to the social workers next door to the station.

“Eldorado Park is decaying because of drugs that are being sold like sweets everywhere and all the police are doing is arresting users, while turning a blind eye to the main suppliers – the big fish. We need to fight the core problem and not kill our own,” she says.

"The fight continues"

The young man James tried to save from mob justice was not the first that day – she had earlier saved another from a similar attack.

“First, we went and removed from one of the lolly lounges one of the girls who was also suspected of having a hand in Junaid’s death because her life was in danger. Together with the ladies I work with, we went to the flats in Extension 1 where the mob was stoning one boy’s house.

“Before the situation got out of hand, I went to the flat and asked the boy to wrap his hands around my body from the back and we walked out slowly as I pleaded with the community to allow me to hand him over to the police,” she said.

“Moments later, while at the police station, I got the message that the mob had gone to the second boy’s house, but officers refused to go there, saying a special unit was needed for that.

“Then someone ran in saying they now had the boy ... We arrived there, but he was already dead.”

As an activist in Eldorado Park, James has seen it all – from saving young girls from the infamous lolly lounges synonymous with drugs and underage prostitution, to seeing bright young minds destroyed by drugs. But she refuses to give up.

“It all started when my own son got hooked on drugs. I fought the addiction with him and although he is clean, the fight continues because we need a clean environment for him and others with fewer people who would lure them back to the bad side,” she says.

“We live in a community where almost every second boy or man has been to prison or have criminal records, rendering them unemployable, and many others who are forced into drugs by different circumstances.”

In her continued fight against drugs, James founded an organisation called Sharing Without Shame.

“We assist drug addicts and place them in rehabilitation centres and give them support afterwards. More than 100 addicts have walked through our doors.”

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  crime

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