They're holding us ransom - Avian Park mom

2017-08-18 06:30

Worcester - When Riano Booyse, 8, hears any loud noise, he instinctively throws himself flat on the ground and covers his head.

“He knows how to dodge bullets – my boy will survive this place,” his mother Maurie says.

“It sounds stupid, but I taught him what I could to protect him. I don’t know what else to do to keep him safe.”

Maurie, her husband and two children have lived in Avian Park, Worcester, for almost 10 years. When she moved to the area from Robertson shortly before getting married, her first impression was that her new home was “sleepy”.

“How I wish that was still the case. Those days are long gone – now it's skiet and donner [shoot and fight] as these gangsters run our potholed, gravel streets. This is no place to raise one’s children, but where else can we go?”

A police nyala keeps watch over the gang-ridden streets. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Gang violence in recent months flared up in the small community, situated about 100km outside Cape Town.

According to residents, there have been dozens of casualties as the Uitbyters, JCY and Young Red Criminals gangs wage war on each other over turf.

Children venture only as far as the front door as their mothers stand in the doorways, keeping an eye on their little ones.

“I can’t take the chance to send my child to school. She has to walk through gang hotspots to get to class,” one woman says.

She pleads not to be named because “the rubbish skollies will target us for speaking”.

“We are held ransom by them. They run everything here. At night I put my big breyani pot against my front window so that if they start shooting, the bullets will hopefully ricochet off it and not hurt any of us inside.”

Bullets are not the only projectiles she has to worry about.

“If they don’t have guns, they use stones. Big rocks fly through the air as they attack each other, not caring who is in the way. I have seen someone being stoned because the attackers didn’t have weapons on them. I couldn’t sleep for weeks.”

Maria Joseph, 53, says a good night’s rest is a luxury she hasn’t enjoyed in months.

The former farmworker lives alone with her disabled husband in the heart of the unrest, opting to stay indoors and out of sight, afraid of becoming a target.

“I don’t want to be noticed. If I can spend the entire day in my house, I do,” Joseph said.

“I spend my days with my husband. If I hear the bullets, I drop to the ground or lie over him to protect him. He only has one leg because of diabetes. I am all he has. I have to look after him.”

Maria Joseph says if she could, she would stay indoors all day because its safer. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Ward councillor Torique Wehr said the situation had subsided since Wednesday, after an incident where an alleged gangster’s home was burnt down, ostensibly by rivals.

Following sporadic gang-related incidents at the end of last year, the situation became “out of control” in January and has been spiralling ever since, he confirmed.

On Thursday, locals waved as police nyalas and vehicles snaked their way through the streets.

Patrols in the lower-income community have increased after deputy police minister Bongani Mkongi visited Worcester on Monday. He reportedly said about 20 people have been killed in gang violence in Avian Park this year alone.

But while residents welcome the additional resources aimed at allowing calm to be restored, the problem won’t go anywhere without the root causes being addressed.

“Boy”, who asks that his full name not be published, says most of his friends are involved in gangsterism or drug and gun-running because they want to make money.

“Here is nothing for young people in Worcester. No job opportunities, no upliftment programmes, nothing. I am 23 years old and have only had one job in my entire life, as a truck assistant. I was off sick for two days and I was replaced. Now I can’t find work,” he says.

He washes people’s takkies for R10 and does odd jobs to make extra cash.

“The only reason I am not involved in gangsterism or anything illegal is because my mother would moer [beat] me. She always said no child of hers will be a criminal. And I don’t mess with my mother.”

But other parents choose to protect their criminal children instead of doing what is right and reporting them to the police, John Solomon* insisted.

A dad walks his daughter home from school. He says even though it's just up the road, he doesnt trust the eerie calm police presence has brought following a week of violence. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

“These mothers and fathers have blood on their hands,” he said from his dilapidated chair on his front stoep.

“I taught my children that a criminal life will be a short one. They also grew up here, in the poverty and crime. But today they have moved out of this cesspit and are productive members of society. So don’t tell me that this kak going on here is because of people’s financial situations.”

He has lived in Avian Park for more than two decades and refuses to move out, even after his house was petrol bombed when it was mistaken for the home of his gangster neighbour.

“Why should we be held hostage by them? I am 56 years old – I built my life here and it’s almost time for me to hang up my construction boots. They won’t chase me out. This is my home,” he argued.

Fed-up with being “disrespected by common thugs”, Solomon even tried to start a neighbourhood watch to patrol and “show them who is boss”.

“But people were too afraid to get involved. They peep through their curtains, see what’s happening but rather turn a blind eye because it’s safer. But how safe are we really if you live in fear of your children being caught in the crossfire?”

*Not his real name

Read more on:    worcester  |  gang violence  |  crime

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