26 September 2017
A month ago, an eight-year-old girl witnessed a man being shot in front of her. The incident happened near her home in Manenberg. Since then, Iris [not her real name] has been battling to sleep and refusing to play outside as she usually did.
Young children are exposed daily in Manenberg to the threat of gang violence. Last week, Western Cape police confirmed that schools in Manenberg have now cancelled all school excursions. Previously they had to use police escorts.
Spokesperson Andre Traut says programmes within the school environment will be implemented however.
Recent shootings in the area have also forced a group of volunteers running poetry, dance and tennis activities at Manenberg Primary to halt lessons. Until three weeks ago, the family-run initiative called the Plea for Peace Project and Musical offered weekly after-school classes to learners.
Iris’s mother recalls the afternoon in August when the shooting occurred. “I sent the children to buy [ice cream] cones after church. As they crossed the road by Silverstream, there was a guy sitting on the pavement … A car pulled up in front of them and they saw the driver point a gun out of the window and shoot the man on the pavement in the chest,” she says.
Iris was crying hysterically when she got home, while the other three children appeared to be “shocked but fine”.
A week later, Iris’s mom says, “I started noticing that she didn’t want to go to the shop for me anymore, which I usually relied on her to do, or to play in the front of the house.”
She tearfully describes feeling helpless as her daughter finally opened up to her. “She told me, ‘Mommy, when I close my eyes I see that man’s face’. She had tears in her eyes and I immediately saw how much she’s hurting. Since then I make a point of telling her not to be afraid, every day.”
Despite efforts by the family to get her daughter’s life “back to normal” again, Iris says her daughter still appears reluctant to leave the house.
“She’s usually independent walking to school, but now clings onto my top or walks behind me. We even took her back to the road where it happened, but [a volunteer at Plea for Peace] told us not to rush her,” she says.
“The school had to stop netball practice because the teachers are scared to stay after school. At least with [Plea for Peace] they had something nice to do after school, but now even that has stopped,” she says.
“As parents we worry so much. My husband always says that if he could get a better job, he would take his children out of this place because there’s nothing good to expose your children to here,” she says.
Brigadier Enolium Joseph, station commander at Manenberg police station, says that youth in the area were severely traumatised. “Shootings, murders and attempted murders often happen in the presence of community members, but no one reports the perpetrators … Our gangs have become a life source which include financial benefit and an opportunity for instant gratification,” he says.
He says not enough was being done to give youth in the area opportunities to contribute to the upliftment of their society. He says a “community cannot be policed to be saved from the outside. Parenting also needs to play a vital role”.