Cape Town's children - a generation at gang gunpoint


Caryn Dolley

A serial killer is operating in Cape Town.

This brazen murderer goes on daily and nightly shooting sprees in various suburbs, targeting an array of individuals and instilling deep fear in those who are effectively trapped in neighbourhoods which have been transformed into killing fields.

Anyone can end up in this devious gunman's firing line.

This serial killer is gangsterism and in Cape Town, it is robbing society's most innocent – babies and children – of their right to safety and with the pull of a trigger, irrevocably changing or snuffing out their lives.

Within three days this month, two children unwittingly became entangled in separate gang shootings, a 1-year-old boy was murdered and a 9-year-old boy wounded.

These incidents should be viewed as astounding, unacceptable and extraordinary, warranting extreme police clampdowns and widespread attention, yet they've become repeat crimes and get swallowed into statistics.

To highlight how children have repeatedly become caught up in criminal battles, below is a list of just some of the shootings that have been reported on by the media, and while not all these have been proven to be linked to gangsterism, the fact that children have been murdered and maimed remains just that, fact:

  • On the evening of Sunday, July 8, 1-year-old Tashwell Nel was wounded in the head while playing in the suburb of Retreat and later died in hospital.
  • Just days before Tashwell was murdered, a 9-year-old boy was wounded when shot in the suburb of Mitchells Plain on July 6.
  • On May 5, a 14-year-old boy was walking to a shop in Mitchells Plain when he was shot in the head. He died the next day in hospital.
  • On April 19, a 16-year-old boy was shot dead while playing soccer with friends in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain.
  • The day before, a girl, 4, was shot dead on April 18 in Uitsig.
  • On the evening of April 3, two teenagers and a boy, 12, were killed in a shooting in Browns Farm
  • A 2-year-old girl was wounded in the mouth on 9 November 2017, when a bullet struck her in Elsies River, Leonsdale.
  • In Ocean View, a 9-year-old boy was killed when a bullet struck him in his home on 9 September 2017.
  • On 22 March 2017, a fifteen-year-old boy died in Hanover Park after being shot.
  • Zahnia Woodward, just 6-months-old, was murdered in Ocean View on 30 December 2016 - a stray bullet struck her in the head while her father was holding her.

Ten children were murdered and two wounded in shootings in Cape Town in just less than a year and seven months and this is a conservative list of incidents, a snapshot of a broader disgrace.

In June the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (Bonteheuwel is a suburb in Cape Town that has experienced intense and ongoing gang shootings) issued a heartfelt statement summarising what children were being exposed to.

"Children and youth on the Cape Flats are living in fear and absolute despair due to uncontrolled gang violence.

"We are being terrorised and held hostage by unscrupulous gangsters in the area, with shooting incidents day and night. Children are not allowed in parks or on the streets to play. Children are not allowed to be carefree or free," it said.

"The children of Bonteheuwel and the broader Cape Flats are saying 'enough is enough'."

Fear and worry over future fatalities, felt mainly by adults, are shaping the way children are living.

This is the collateral damage being caused by gangsterism, yet how can this be clamped down on if the umbrella problem, gang violence, continues?

Also read: Why scandal is following the Western Cape police

In June Police Minister Bheki Cele announced that a high-density stabilisation intervention would be introduced to clamp down on crimes including gang violence.

Former police minister Fikile Mbalula in October last year requested the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to help tackle crime in the Western Cape and Gauteng, something several residents in Cape Town had for long begged for to tackle the gang problem.

"When I visited the community of Elsies River, one community leader referred to the terror caused by gangs as an act of terrorism, I want to tell the people of Elsies River that I heard you, and I am acting," he had said at the time.

"Our children have a right to grow in a peaceful environment, and as police, we have a duty to protect that right."

However, Mbalula's SANDF request never resulted in army intervention.

Police are undoubtedly tackling gangsterism in Cape Town via various strategies and while we might not see officers out and about, clandestine intelligence operations are probably being conducted.

But while the police are playing a part in clamping down on gang violence, let us not forget that certain officers are part of the problem.

Former police colonel Chris Prinsloo of Vereeniging, who is currently in jail, previously said he had sold at least 2 000 firearms meant to be destroyed by police to Rondebosch businessman Irshaad Laher, who then allegedly sold these weapons to gangsters.

At least 261 children were murdered or wounded between 2010 and 2016 with the guns. 

Last month a police constable was arrested on suspicion of having played a role in a crime in which 18 firearms were stolen from a storeroom at the Bellville South police station in August 2017.

Police officers, especially according to Prinsloo's account, are therefore not just squeezing down on gang violence, they are facilitating it and weaponising the serial killer and mass murderer that is gangsterism.

This is the bewildering scourge that children – the innocent and defenceless – are up against.

In suburbs plagued by gang violence, children have to run an ongoing gauntlet and somehow dodge an unpredictable onslaught of bullets, in order to reach adulthood. Tashwell Nell, one of the latest victims of Cape Town's gang problem, never even got to reach the age of 2 years.  Zahnia Woodward was only six months old when she was shot in the head and killed in Ocean View at the end of 2016.

Stray, unpredictable bullets ripped into these children. What reassurance can be given to other children that the same won't happen to them?

It seems the serial killer that is gangsterism still has many a potential young victim in its path and that enough may never be enough.

- Dolley is an investigative reporter at News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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