Children under fire in Lavender HillComment on this story
Cape Town - From the waist up, you would never know there was anything wrong.
But on Jazlin Sentamu’s little back, a rough-edged scar tells the story of a Sunday night three years ago when her mom was pushing her in a stroller and her sister was walking beside her.
Two gangs began exchanging gunfire. A bullet ripped through the dark navy material of her stroller, and then her skin. It hit the section of spine known as T12.
Jazlin’s aunt, Michelle Louw, who stays in the same house and was at home at the time, says: “A girl my mother used to raise came knocking on the door. She asked if the children were okay.”
But Louw soon discovered that her niece had been rushed to hospital.
When Louw arrived, Jazlin’s mom Sharon was crying. “They told her that Jazlin was permanently paralysed,” says Louw. “They could tell because of where the bullet went in.”
At age 5, she still wears nappies, and twice a week her mom has to do a bowel washout for her. She should be preparing for Grade R, where her sharp mind and perfectly functional upper body could take her through the curriculum just like other children her age. But she has never been to school and, says her aunt, “there is no school in the area that has ramps except for Westlake Primary, but getting her there and home each day will be a problem”.
While Jazlin watches a Barney movie in a room next door, Louw says: “It is a sad story but the upside is that she was still small when it happened and can adapt to being in a wheelchair. If it happened later, she wouldn’t understand.”
The navy stroller with a hole in the back still stands propped up against a wall
Jazlin dresses herself, and scoots around on the bed. She also works the wheelchair like it is part of her body, pushing herself along next to the other children when they play in the concrete courtyard between the two rows of “blokke”.
“She was one of the first children to be shot here in Lavender Hill,” says Louw.
But she was not the last.
Gunfire is a common sound that ricochets through the air here, and a single street can mark the territory between different gangs who stitch the days together with bullets.
“I don’t think it will ever change,” says Louw. “I have lived here all my life. Back then, the gangsters used to fight with bricks and sticks. In the last two decades the gunfire has been here.”
Not far from Jazlin’s house, three boys - primary school age - sniff glue and smoke dope on the stairwell. It is 11am on a Thursday.
Up a further flight of stairs lives Michael Lewis, 55, who looks after his grandson Zain, 7, as his daughter, Zain’s mother, is a 22-year-old drug addict. Lewis explains how Zain got shot in the leg two years ago while playing in the communal yard.
Lewis had grabbed five children when he heard the gunshots, and stood behind a stairwell with them. But Zain got hit in the groin. Like other children in the blokke, he has been taught two things: Only play in your own communal yard so you know where to run if the shooting starts, and just lie flat if you can’t run away.
The same bullet that ripped through his leg, first grazed the skin on Voughan Hare’s leg. Voughan was 5 at the time.
“I must always be worried about the children because you never know when they are going to shoot,” says his mom, Isabel Hare, 37, who has five other children.
“It is just life here.”