Solution to gang scourge lies with the community

The people of Manenberg and other gang infested places on the Cape Flats need to find solutions because the answers cannot, and will not, come from outside, writes Ryland Fisher.

There will, one supposes, always be a contradiction between the beauty of Cape Town for people who live in the more affluent suburbs and the less-than-glamorous reality for residents of the gang-ridden areas of what is known as the Cape Flats.

It is difficult for someone like me, who grew up on the Cape Flats and who now lives in one of the nicer suburbs, to avoid this contradiction. Most of my extended family still live on the Cape Flats and have to cope daily with the social and other problems in the mostly poorer townships.

I grew up mainly in Hanover Park, but also lived elsewhere on the Cape Flats in places such as Bokmakierie, Kewtown, Silvertown, Surrey Estate, Primrose Park, Elsies River, Bonteheuwel and Mitchells Plain. Even if you try to cut yourself off from the problems in these areas to concentrate on middle-class issues, it is not easy.

It is easier if you come from a privileged background where your only interaction with people from the Cape Flats is because they work for you, or your parents. It’s easier when you can talk about “them” or “their problems” as opposed to “us” and society’s problems. It’s not so easy when this is part of your history and social experience and still affects many members of your family.

Crime, irrespective of where it happens, is a societal problem and we cannot pretend it does not exist just because we are safe behind our electric fences and burglar bars. We cannot say at least it is not happening in our areas.

When you read the stories about what has been going on in Manenberg, where young people, some of them innocent, are killed on a regular basis and where gangs have really taken over the community, it hurts.

It hurts more because the situation has not changed much from the days when I grew up on those streets more than 40, 50 years ago. It seems one of the big differences is when I grew up most gangsters used knives and other sharp weapons while the gangsters of today use guns.

Over the years I have watched how generations of leaders and politicians have grappled with what to do about gang problems on the Cape Flats – all with little success.

Gangsterism will continue to be a problem in communities where people feel marginalised, economically and politically, and where many parents turn a blind eye to the wrongdoings of their children, claiming they are not bad but only have bad friends.

It is not an excuse for gangsterism, but you need only to look at the apartheid architecture of a city like Cape Town to realise this still plays a role in many problems we have. Life has not changed much for the people of Manenberg since the days of apartheid.

Taking ownership of any problem is the first step towards solving that problem.

The peace-loving people of Manenberg and other similar places on the Cape Flats need to get together and find solutions because solutions cannot, will not, come from outside.

Leaders need to grow from inside these communities because outsiders, who can go and sleep in comfortable beds at night, can never display the same kind of commitment to finding solutions.

Gangsters are still made to feel welcome in our communities; there are still too many people who protect them for whatever reason. Maybe they benefit financially or maybe there is a familial and friendship bond. Gangsterism can only be dealt with completely if residents decide to apply tough love.

For instance, you should not allow gang members in your house or in your social circles, even if they are family or friends. You should not buy stolen property, even if that is the only way that you will possess something you have always wanted.

But, importantly, residents need to be prepared to come forward to not only report crimes but ensure the police are held accountable for solving crimes.

It is difficult to ask a mother to disown a gangster son – especially when she refuses to accept his gangster affiliation – or to turn against him, but this is the radical step that needs to happen.

I have seen too often how young people on the Cape Flats admire gangsters and aspire to be like them. It is time for proper role models to step forward and help to show youngsters there are alternatives.

It is not going to be easy to tackle the problem of gangsterism, but we appear not to have made significant progress in the past 50 years or more and for this we should all hang our heads in shame.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column on Saturday 16 April 2016)