Cape Town - Six-year-old Hope van der Merwe was shot dead in a park in Mitchells Plain on Monday. Now her mother has an image in her mind that replays over and over, of her daughter with a bullet wound in her head.
Hope was killed by a single bullet which entered through the back of her head and exited through her left temple. Her friend, Jaden Dass, 5, was wounded in the leg, and an 18-year-old man was also shot and wounded.
Police have arrested a 23-year-old man in Lentegeur on charges of murder following the shootings. Residents said the man was a known drug dealer, and the shooting was almost certainly over drug turf.
The Cape Argus interviewed Hope’s grieving mother, Dashley van der Merwe, on Tuesday morning.
“I have not slept, the pain is overwhelming. An image replays in my mind – there is Hope, lying dead on the pavement with a gunshot in her head,” Van der Merwe said. “She was such a good girl, always helpful and she really loved her teachers. In fact, that was her goal – to become a teacher. Even though she was young, she was very smart, kind, honest. She had a bright future ahead of her, and to us she was the light in all of our lives.”
The shooting happened shortly after 2pm on Monday, and residents said they saw the gunman flee the scene.
Basil Coetzee, chairman of the Community Policing Forum in Lentegeur, said there was speculation that the incident might be gang-related but it was not clear which gangs were fighting for turf in the area. New Woodlands lies next to a railway line. Different gangs were based on either side of the railway line and would shoot at each other, said Coetzee.
They needed a wall to separate the railway line from the houses, he said.
On Tuesday morning Van der Merwe said: “We do not want our community to go the way of Hanover Park or Manenberg. We have a peaceful past, we are not used to these shootings.”
However, since the beginning of the year the Woodlands area in Lentegeur has seen a surge in drug- and gang-related shootings. On Monday night, as Hope’s family grieved at their home, they heard more gunshots ring out nearby.
Joan Mentoor, 55, said she had left her grandson, Jaden, in the park in Alexis Preller Street with his friend, Hope, when she heard four gunshots.
“I turned around and ran back to the park. When I got there someone was crying very loudly next to the body of a little girl.
“I was so emotional that I also started crying. Then I heard Jaden calling me and when I looked around I saw that he had blood all over his leg. I got so hysterical that I took him and started heading towards my house.”
Mentoor said she heard more gunshots, and people started running for cover.
She had one of her sons carry Jaden home.
Kamaal Salie, acting chairman for the Community Policing sub-forum in Lentegeur, visited the Van der Merwe family on Tuesday morning.
He assured them that meetings between Mitchells Plain police and the forum were scheduled for Tuesday. High on the agenda would be the re-establishing of active neighbourhood watches and regular, visible police patrols.
With schools closing or the December holidays on Wednesday, many more children will be playing on pavements and parks around Lentegeur and the Cape Flats generally over the next few weeks.
“It is important that we have meaningful intervention as soon as possible to ensure safety for these children,” Salie said.
At Hope’s home, her family have erected a shrine to her.
A photo of her as a pre-primary graduate is surrounded by candles and her teddy bear and a “thank you award” given to her by her teacher earlier this year for being helpful.
Hope’s funeral has been scheduled for Saturday.
Flyers are making the rounds at businesses in Lentegeur, asking for donations for the family.