Durban - Police are investigating incidents of drive-by shootings, burning of motor vehicles, attacks on homes – and murders – in strife-torn Wentworth.
And as they hunt for the masked attackers who gunned down a Wentworth teenager a week ago, local leaders are trying to find new ways to get the crime-weary community to report culprits, without risking their own lives.
“We will be calling a prayer meeting with the community and churches in the area and we are going to start a system where people will be able to place their tip-offs to the police in the church collection boxes,” community activist, Desmond D’Sa, said on Wednesday.
“We need to do something or else we are going to see our community go down before our eyes.”
As police conclude their investigation into the murder of 19-year-old Tevin Rivers, fears are growing of an all-out turf war over the lucrative drug trade plaguing the south Durban community.
“This is not about one gang fighting another. This is about drugs and turfs and who controls what,” said D’Sa, who was instrumental in quelling gang violence in Wentworth in the 1980s.
“Drugs are destroying this community and unless we stand up, things are only going to get worse.”
Last Thursday, Rivers and his 20-year-old friend, Kyle David, were sprayed with bullets when a group of men wearing balaclavas attacked them at a block of flats in Reiger Road.
Rivers was shot in the head and thigh and died at the scene. David was shot in the thigh.
He was taken to hospital where he was said to be in a critical condition.
“It sounded like an Uzi machine gun,” a neighbour who lives in a nearby block said. “Rat-at-at-tat. When I jumped off the couch to look through the window people were running in all directions. It was total chaos.”
The man, who feared being named, said members of the community believed Rivers was not the intended target.
“They were actually after someone else, a drug dealer who stands on the same corner who happened not to be there that night. They came armed with automatic weapons and it was their intention to take out everyone on that corner irrespective (of) if they are dealers or not,” he said. “We the innocent people who live here and whose children play outside are stuck in the middle of this turf war.”
A resident with ties to Wentworth’s criminal underworld said the deaths of two “senior” drug dealers in recent months had created a vacuum that was being exploited by a well-known drug lord intent on taking over their turf.
“The police know who he is. He doesn’t even live in the community. He has big houses on Treasure Beach and when he snaps his fingers his henchmen do the dirty work on his behalf. He never controlled this side (Reiger Road) before, he controlled the G-Section (flats near the oil refinery). Now he wants to move in here but he has faced stiff resistance.”
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, confirmed they were investigating incidents of drive-by shootings, burning of motor vehicles, attacks on homes, and murders.
“We do have intelligence of individuals that might belong to certain group/groups that might be involved in one or more of these incidents. Detectives are currently probing these cases and we are confident that, as in the past, we will be successful in bringing the perpetrators to book,” he said.
“We ask that members of the community work closely with police to identify perpetrators involved in criminal activities in the area.”
D’sa applauded the police efforts in trying to stem the violence but said there were still many corrupt elements within its ranks.
“Because of corruption people are scared to talk to the police because shortly after giving them information their homes get petrol-bombed,” he said.
Rivers will be buried on Saturday.
‘Wentworth needs healing’
Pastor Earl Wilkinson, 58, from First Dominion Ministries, and a resident of Wentworth for 54 years said: “Wentworth is sick and needs healing.”
Wilkinson said that Wentworth suffered from overcrowding, unemployment and a mix of overflowing anger and apathy.
“Three to four generations stay in one flat... and right now we are sitting on powder keg.”
Wilkinson is a part of Operation Sukuma Sakhe (which means stand up and let’s build), which aims to fight the drug scurge.
The operation had attempted to negotiate with drug dealers to stop the violence.
But attempts failed due to the volatile situation.
“The community struggles with the perception that drug dealers and the SAPS are in collusion and people are scared to go to the SAPS... The reality is that it is a community that has been marginalised and has poor service delivery,” he said.