Cape Town - Exactly a year has passed since metro police swept through the faceless blokke (blocks) of Lavender Hill, leading sniffer dogs up the skeletal staircases and bursting through doors of drug dens long since stripped of anything of value.
But, say community members, nothing much has changed, and the main losers in the situation are small children who now see violence as the norm.
“These efforts by police haven’t led to a decrease in criminal activity,” said chairman of the local community policing forum Kevin Southgate. “We know from policing reports that despite the big crackdown, it is business as usual.”
And, judging from crime statistics spanning a decade, the rise of drugs as a feature of daily life has gathered momentum from year to year.
Other types of crime in the area have either remained the same or dropped slightly, but drug-related crime has sky-rocketed, increasing almost eightfold between 2003 and 2013.
By the end of March 2004, the area had seen a total of 211 drug-related crimes in the previous 12 months. By the end of March last year, there were 1 630 crimes of that nature over the same period. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs had trebled in that time, and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition had more than trebled.
“The current situation has a huge impact on the development of children in the local community because they are exposed to all the behavioural patterns related to drug use and gangsterism,” said Southgate. “The biggest problem is that the community has become numb to it and, because children have grown up with it, they don’t see it as being abnormal. We recently discovered that those getting caught up in drugs and gangsterism are getting younger and younger.”
Sharon Daniels, an educare teacher working at New World Foundation, an NGO in the area, said interventions that developed ‘the whole child’ stood the best chance of counteracting exposure to violent lifestyles at a young age.
“Because there is a lot of violence outside, our all-day programme includes a variety of activities like creative art, music, physical movement, and discussing different themes like ‘the family’. The children also have a nap and a snack,” she said, adding that being in a safe and stimulating environment for most of the day offers some protection from the context beyond the school grounds.
But, while Lavender Hill is an archetypal site of generational violence, it is only one of many such communities across South Africa.
Holly Foster, a researcher who focuses on the effects of violence on early childhood development, said that children in severely under-resourced communities were at high risk of being “co-exposed to family violence and community violence”. In many cases, even where a younger child had not been directly exposed to violence, the mental health of a parent or caregiver who had been affected by violence could affect the development of a child.
“Among older children, violence exposure has direct detrimental influences on a broad range of social, emotional and academic outcomes.”
Because of this reality in many South African communities there was a “need for ongoing support structures in local communities” and that “schools, faith-based groups, and NGOs” should intervene to prevent the effects of violence on early childhood development.