Fifteen year old Shaquille Jacobs came from an alcohol ravaged home, was taken out of school by his neglectful parents and lived in one of the most dangerous gang ridden neighbourhoods on the Cape Flats. He was an easy target for local gangs who recruit vulnerable teenage boys as drug peddlers, gun runners and as right hand men in gang warfare.Yet Shaquille stayed out of trouble. All he wanted was to be in school, get a good job and take care of his younger sister.
“He was doing very well at Cafda School of Skills and loved football. He was waiting to be placed in a football team at school,” said his grandmother Gaironesa Solomons, who took him under her care a year ago.
But Shaquille will never realize his dreams of a better life.
He was gunned down on March 11, along with 15-year-old Dale Jordaan and 21-year-old Sergio Domingo. The three were innocent victims in a vicious gang war that erupted last month. But over the past week the violence has spilled over into neighbouring areas of Capricorn, Seawinds, Vrygrond and Overcome Heights. The violence has resulted in 13 deaths so far, according to police. Eight of the people killed had no known links to gangs. But according to social worker and gang negotiator, Llewellyn Jordaan, one more gang related killing and another suspected gang related killing occurred over the past week in neighbouring areas.
Ten suspects have been arrested and four illegal firearms and drugs worth more than R5 000 have been confiscated since March 11, said Steenberg police senior communications officer, warrant officer Hermanus van Dyk.
Witness to the death of the three young men was Shaheeda Jones, 71, and her 16-year-old granddaughter.
She had just bought fruit at a stall less than a metre from where the shooting took place.
“I heard Ba! Ba! Ba! Like a machine gun. I saw my granddaughter and her friend duck for cover. But I just froze. I couldn’t move. I was praying to God because I didn’t know where the bullet would get me. Then I saw him (one of the three young men) go down slowly. Then I saw the blood flowing from him,” said Jones.
Five young men who also witnessed the shootings but who declined to be named, said more than 20 shots were fired from a white Toyota Corolla with three occupants whom they recognized.
Along with the three dead young men, five other passersby lay wounded.
Sporadic gang violence in common in Lavender Hill, but the latest round of violence in which innocent residents have been killed has the community in an uproar.
Shooting have occurred almost daily since March 6, say residents.
Last week the flying squad, the tactical response unit, reinforcements from Muizenberg police, the metro police and the dog unit stepped in.
The latest round of violence is not the product of the typical intermittent fight for drug turf, but the result of a fight for leadership positions within the Junky Funky Kids and Corner Boys gangs.
Jordaan said major gang war in Lavender Hill flares up every eight years due to a new generation of gang members vying for control and power within the gang hierarchy. “The tension and conflict first starts within the gangs and then spreads out to rival groups because of upcoming leaderships,” said Jordaan.
The last time violence on the present scale occurred was in 2002. It was resolved after a peace deal was struck between the Mongrels and the Bostons, who were the most powerful gangs in Lavender Hill at the time.
But Jordaan said there is little hope of a peace deal now after a prominent Junky Funky’s member was gunned down on March 21.
“The two factions are prepared to talk but… the shooting (on Monday) put us ten steps back,” he said.
However, this week, community leaders made some headway with gangs. “We requested a clean-up of the area both literally and figuratively, starting with the removal of graffiti. Each gang has made an attempt,” said Jordaan. Community leaders are also negotiating on a ceasefire and discussing the issue of the gangs’ claim of territory. “The community needs to reclaim the area,” he said.
Residents and community workers say the local police have been ineffective in dealing with gang violence and allegations that local police are on the gangs’ payroll abound.
“Steenberg Police has failed the community. They could have pre-empted that a retaliation would take place (after the first shooting) but they did not have a plan at hand,” said Jordaan.
Community workers say they have had several meetings with local police but warnings about gang recruitments and looming violence have been ignored.
“They (police) don’t come with solutions. Interventions should be consistent but police just raid for one hour and then go,” said community worker Dawood Walljee.
“Police now have a strategy in place and have deployed detectives to investigate,” said Community Policing Forum chairperson Kevin Southgate.
On Tuesday last week an uneasy calm pervaded Lavender Hill, police are visible but residents are on the alert.
“Police must keep the pressure now. The gangs have their own intelligence doing surveillance. Once the police are off guard, they strike,” said Jordaan.
But supposed ineffective policing is not the only obstacle to achieving lasting peace in Lavender Hill and other gang-infested communities.
Poverty is clearly visible in the neglected, dilapidated council flats covered in graffiti, and numerous groups of unemployed young men on street corners and the lack of recreational facilities, positive male role models and a very high school drop-out rate make teenage boys easy prey for recruiting gangs.
“They are easy bait for drug lords,” said Mark Vandayar, priest of the St. Mark’s Anglican church.
“The main issue here is not about the drug lords – as much as we can do without them – but the tremendous lack of resources, particularly for our teenagers who need creative spaces,” he said.
Gangs are aware of the problems facing the community and abuse it to win support. Many are known to sponsor and run football tournaments and game shops, becoming part of community life.
Poverty also leads to some mothers relying on gang leaders to pay their rent, their children’s school fees and groceries. In return they act as an early warning system for the gangs during police raids, said Vandayar.
“They can’t be judged. People want to survive. It is tough to live in Lavender Hill. People make decisions not based on right and wrong but on how to survive as best we can,” he said.
“We are in a crisis, a helluva crisis,” said Jordaan. – Fadela Slamdien, West Cape News