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Eight-year-old Zunaid McKenzie, who died in hospital after being shot in the head in Steenberg on Wednesday, is the latest child victim of escalating gang violence on the Cape Flats.
Since February, the Cape Argus has reported that seven children have been killed in gang warfare, including Zunaid, while an additional six were injured.
Another two adults were killed in Delft in April, while a 24-year-old woman is recovering at Groote Schuur Hospital after she was shot during the crossfire when Zunaid was killed.
Zunaid was buried on Thursday afternoon – family and community members wept in grief.
Those who attended the funeral walked over a patch of soil in front of the Melody Square home where Zunaid was found bleeding after his family heard gunshots on Wednesday night.
Earlier during an interview with the Cape Times, the boy’s mother, Mariam Mckenzie, sat silently, tears streaming down her face as the rest of her household bustled about with family members preparing for her son’s burial.
Other family members sat at the park in the middle of the square, waiting for his body to be returned from the mortuary.
Still too distraught to speak, Mariam McKenzie asked her daughter, Shamiela Mckenzie, to tell the Cape Times of their ordeal.
“Yesterday (Wednesday), Junaid had been playing in the park opposite our house with friends. This was the norm.
“The bigger boys would be outside playing dominoes while the younger ones played with a ball.
“We heard gunshots and ran out to find Junaid on the ground.”
Mckenzie said she ran to find transport to rush her brother to the local day hospital.
“From there we went to Red Cross. My brother was alive, he was breathing.
“But after three hours he died,” she said as she started to cry.
The Cape Argus reports that no one has come forward with information on who may be responsible.
Shamiela told the Cape Argus: “People said they saw three people running after the shooting happened… There is usually shooting in the night between the gangs.”
She said Zunaid, who was in Grade 2 at Steenberg Primary, was very fond of playing soccer and watching cartoons.
“I am going to miss everything about him. We were very close,” his mother said.
Clive Jacobs, head of the Lavender Hill Youth Outreach Project, said this year was the worst in terms of gang violence in the area.
“We thought 2010 was the worst period, but this year is worse. We lose about 20 people a month to gang violence in the whole Retreat area. There is shooting during the day and more shooting during the night,” he said.
He said that besides the shooting incident in Melody Square, two other people were also killed in gang-related shootings in Lavender Hill on the same night.
Kevin Southgate, the head of the local Community Policing Forum, said Zunaid’s incident was the third incident of gang violence in the area since Saturday.
“We had a double murder involving two gangsters in Lavender Hill on Saturday night and another gang member was shot there last night and then this one (Zunaid’s killing),” Southgate said.
He said the gang violence had subsided during the festive season because the army had been deployed to the area, “but as soon as the army was withdrawn, we had a surge in violence”.
“It’s a war that we are currently going through and the government has failed the people of Lavender Hill.”
Jacobs said that residents felt like they were forgotten: “Dan Plato has failed us. He must be removed. How many children (must be killed before) for him to change things?”
Jacobs said more police were needed and added that the army should return.
Police spokesman Andrè Traut said no one had been arrested.
“Police will remain in the area in high numbers to root out the violence associated with the gang situation.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Southgate of the Lavender Hill Community Policing Forum (CPF) said that it was difficult to pinpoint key issues that spark gang violence.
“It’s usually about turf and drugs and gangs retaliating,” Southgate said.
He added that the government needed to invest more in policing the area.
“It is very sad when you hear government say that these areas do not need specialised units because the situation is ‘under control’… God help us if what we see is ‘under control’,” he said.
He said a different strategy and interventions were desperately needed because the current strategies “were definitely not working”.
“At the moment we can’t send the neighbourhood watch to patrol in Lavender Hill… I’m so concerned that we will get to a point where we are numbed by the violence and accept the abnormal as normal.”
In Hanover Park, tensions remain constant with another shooting on Monday night.
CPF member in the area Ebrahim Abrahams said government engagement was needed to combat the violence, but the stakeholders that government deal with in communities were key.
“The government should not be entertaining splinter groups… there needs to be resources and strategies in place, but they have to deal with the right people in communities,” he said.
Meanwhile Irvin Kinnes, a PhD candidate from the Institute of Criminology at UCT, said more than a generational change was needed.
He said that social changes, a shift in mindset, education and lifestyles were critical in trying to remedy the gang scourge and that “we must change the way we think about the gang problem”.
He added that there needed to be an emphasis on giving people hard skills and to try to turn away from the seduction of gang culture.
“For a youngster to be able to pull a trigger is a big deal and we have to take away the fascination of it,” he said.
Kinnes said that there was a huge focus on gangs when there should be a focus on positive influences in communities.
“We need to turn our attention to those who are doing well or who not affiliated to gangs – we have to find alternative poles in our communities so that those kids can gravitate towards the more positive things and turn around the seduction of gang violence.”
He added that there needed to be “proper consultation processes” between the police, government departments and the community and that more money needed to be invested in organisations having positive impacts in the community.
“We need to be working with people who already want to work there.”
He said that dealing with issues of poverty and education were key rather than focusing on the gangs.
“Fixing our communities is a far bigger job… we’re sitting with broken communities.”
Cape Argus, Cape Times