‘Since the fall of apartheid, nothing has changed much for our working class communities,’ #TotalShutdown organiser Gatto Wanza told News 24. ‘Our people continue to live in abject poverty, are facing unprecedented levels of unemployment and violence, cannot afford food and basic necessities such as water, electricity and transport and, added to this, we live in overcrowded communities because of a lack of decent housing.’

Earlier this month, it was announced that a mass protest would be organised to bring attention to the poverty and rife gangsterism of Cape Town’s lower-income areas. Residents and trade-union members were expected to protest in the following areas: Bellville, Bishop Lavis, Bonteheuwel, Langa, Steenberg, Manenberg, Nyanga, Hanover Park, Flamingo, Freedom Square, Samora Machel, Phillipi, Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha, Kensington, Factreton, Heideveld, Delft, Kraaifontein, Ottery and Ruyterwacht.

These protests follow a string that have been occurring in reaction to gang violence. In August, Bonteheuwel residents joined those from the Cape Flats, Kensington and Factreton after six people were killed in suspected gang-related violence in just 48 hours. Today’s #Totalshutdown is a continuation of that action, a mass gathering of residents with concerns around this issue.

Addressing gang violence and poverty

As of midday today, the majority of protests were reported to be peaceful, though police are out in full riot gear, prepped with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

The Bonteheuwel protest erupted into chaos following a clash between police and residents who attempted to move onto the highways.

The above is a scene in Bonteheuwel yesterday.

IOL reports that mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith estimates that there are 300 to 350 people who protested today, with many still doing so.

 

Residents expressed their disbelief at the fact that there was a police response to their peaceful protest, but an apparent lack of response when it comes to gang-related crime.

A scene from the protest in Kensington:


Via: Henk Kruger

‘I believe gang fights can be stopped,’ said Ronald Snipper, a gang mediator and member of the Manenberg Safety Forum at a meeting in Manenberg earlier this month. ‘This takes skills development, employment and reconstruction of the area. Without those three things, you will always have gangs here.’

‘Enough is enough’

While many opinions echo the idea that there is an inefficient response from SAPS  to address gang violence in the communities, others say that the police cannot be expected to address social issues. These issues run deeper than police action.

‘The march will be pulling together all of our struggles and bringing a united voice to the front. We can’t work in isolation any more,’ said activist Roegshanda Pascoe. ‘We can’t hide behind the fact that police don’t have a plan. It’s also unfair for people to expect the police to tackle social issues. We can’t blame the police for everything.’

Operation Thunder – a crime-prevention operation – was launched by Police Minister Bheki Cele in May this year. ‘The operation came out of the concern of the communities in the Cape Flats and African townships for the murders that are taking place, drugs and gangsterism,’ said Minister Cele. SAPS reported at a briefing to the Western Cape legislature’s Committee on Community Safety in August that the operation had been experiencing success.

Groundup states that, since its inception, Operation Thunder has resulted in more than 11 000 arrests, the confiscation of 3 000 rounds of ammunition and 130 illegal firearms, as well as a decrease in murder and attempted murder cases in Manenberg, Ravensmead, Steenberg and Worcester.

But Michael Jacobs of the Mitchells Plain United Residents’ Association says their experience differs from these reports. ‘Whether or not they make thousands of arrests, it certainly is not making an impact in getting the guns and shooters off the streets.’

Recent crime statistics also paint a different picture on a wider scale, with an increase in recorded murders across the country (rising by 7% from 2016). The highest rate of murder recorded is in the Western Cape, with an almost 13% increase.

Protest organiser Henriette Abrahams says the protest aim is to ‘mobilise and unite our working-class communities and build solidarity for our cause‚ which is fighting violence‚ poverty‚ inequality‚ racism and neo-liberalism by creating a better‚ safer‚ healthier and equal society.’

The Western Cape Total Shutdown Communities say that future protest action is dependent on government response.