Cape Town - At least five teenagers have been killed in the past three weeks as gang wars between two Nyanga gangs, mostly comprising teenage school dropouts, take hold.
Although less well known than notorious gangs like the 28s and the Americans, the Vuras and Vatos have been at odds in the township in a cycle of vengeance that has raged since 2009.
And the local police forum says they’re terrorising the community.
The Vuras say the two members who died were the first to be killed since the conflict began.
They are allegedly responsible for the majority of this year’s murders.
Vura member Thabo, 18, said: “We’ve killed three or four of them this year. Last year it was around eight. It’s our first time losing lives this year.”
But Vato member Mthetho, 21, said this week that the Vuras had killed the wrong people this time.
“You’ll never hear of a fight that was started by us. They’re right, they’ve always been the ones doing the killing. But this time they killed mostly innocent people.”
Both gangs said they used pangas, knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and axes during attacks. The Vuras say they’ve also got a home-made gun and the Vatos admit they’re keen to get their hands on some weapons.
In the most recent attacks, on January 9, a 15 year old from from Mawu-Mawu in Nyanga, which is Vato territory, was killed while Vura members were chasing Vato members.
The same day a 20-year-old member of the Vuras was killed at his home in Zwelitsha, Nyanga.
While all the Vato members vow that the 15-year-old was not involved in the gang, a Vura member countered that he was killed to avenge the killing of a 19-year-old Vura member on January 6.
Vura member Zuko said the feud between the two gangs was a cycle of vengeance, which would never end.
“We don’t know what they are going to do to us when we bump into them at night,” he said.
Vato member Thami, 19, agreed that there would never be peace.
“I don’t think there will ever be forgiveness after they killed our friend who did nothing. He just had a lot of girlfriends, he was basically killed for living in Mawu-Mawu and knowing us.”.
Sandile Martin, chairman of the Nyanga community police forum, said adults in the area were being traumatised by the teenagers’ behaviour.
“Families here live in fear, and most of the time it is elderly grandparents that are affected because the majority of these boys live with their grandmothers. At the same time, their parents are also part of the problem because when the boys get arrested they rush to take their birth certificates to the police station to plead that their sons are too young to be in prison,” he said.
The community needed government intervention to help respond to the youth violence.
“We have asked the SAPS and the Tactical Response Team to intervene in the area. We have lots of organisations that have expressed their willingness to help us, but we need resources for these camps and activities we want to engage these youths in. Government must respond financially to assist us with resources,” Martin said.
JP Smith, the city’s mayoral committee member for safety and security, agreed that the police needed to take the lead in addressing the violence.
“Metro police are aware of the situation and are doing patrols at affected schools. They are also doing a joint focus on liquor with the SAPS, where we close down illegal liquor outlets and make sure that the legal ones comply with the conditions of their licences.”
He said statistics showed that a lot of the youth violence and crime in Nyanga was generated by alcohol abuse.
“The SAPS needs to prosecute the people involved. They will have to drive a joint strategy on this, and metro police will participate,” Smith said.
Police confirmed that the violence had been happening since last year and said suspects had been arrested.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andre Traut said police had arranged awareness programmes at schools in affected areas.
“The police are currently doing everything according to the book to keep the suspects off the streets. Vehicle and foot patrols were also increased,” he said, adding that local media was also being used.
But a major problem remained that witnesses were often afraid to testify against the youngsters involved, Traut added.