Wentworth gang culture in dock

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Durban - Wentworth was engulfed in a wave of violent crime, with gang warfare commonplace, court officials agreed on Thursday.

But an example should not be made of a teen convicted of committing a murder at a school in the south Durban suburb, his lawyer said.

Leroy Johnson, 19, was found guilty last month of stabbing his friend, Kerwin Abrahams, 22, of Wentworth, killing him, on Christmas Eve 2011.

He stabbed Abrahams in the heart with a knife he carried to protect himself against gangsters in Wentworth.

In the Durban Magistrate’s Court yesterday, the culture of violence in the suburb was at the centre of arguments for sentencing.

Magistrate Anand Maharaj called the investigating officer, Warrant Officer Sithembiso Ndlovu, to the witness stand because of his concern about the level of violence in Wentworth.

Maharaj said that in the past few months he had presided over several murder cases, most of them from Wentworth.

Ndlovu, a Wentworth detective, testified that gang warfare was common in Wentworth and violent crimes on the rise.

In December 2011, the Daily News reported that at least four men had been killed there in what was alleged to be gang-related violence.

At the time, police dismissed this notion – despite ward councillor Aubrey Snyman’s saying the community was “burying a body every week” and the gang situation was getting worse.

A month before Abrahams was killed, Khanyisani Mnqayi, 15, died when a fellow pupil stabbed him in an apparent gang-related fight at Fairvale Secondary School.

Johnson attended Fairvale Secondary but lived with his mother on the Bluff. During the December 2011 school holidays he had been visiting his father in Wentworth. He had been drinking whisky with friends, and went to the home of a friend’s girlfriend, also in Wentworth. He was afraid of his father and did not want to be caught drinking.

Abrahams joined the group at the house in Theron Road, Wentworth, and was seen arguing with Johnson, who

testified that he could not remember the reason for the disagreement.

Abrahams slapped Johnson, who pulled out his knife and stabbed Abrahams.

Johnson fled and was arrested three days later. He pleaded not guilty, saying he stabbed Abrahams in self-defence.

Yesterday, Abrahams’s mo-ther, Elaine, testified her family were still devastated by her only son’s death.

He had been planning to marry his fiancée, Teniel David, last year. Their daughter, Samara, was five months old when Kerwin died.

The family “would never be able to forgive Johnson”, although he had written a letter of apology from Westville Prison. It was delivered to the Abrahams family by Johnson’s mother, Benesia, in December.

“I was shocked by his mother’s visit and by the letter. I regretted accepting the letter because it was a trick so that he could get a lesser sentence. He’s not remorseful,” Abrahams said.

Asked by Maharaj what her idea of justice would be, she said: “I want to see him go to prison. The stabbing was unnecessary. He could’ve walked away.”

Defence advocate Jay Naidoo suggested that if Johnson was sentenced to a jail term, half of it should be suspended. “This sentence would act as a deterrent to youth and would give (Johnson) the opportunity to leave prison while he is still young and become a valuable member of society.”

Naidoo said he appreciated it was the duty of the court to send out a strong message, but asked that Johnson should not be a sacrifice. He called on the court to show a measure of mercy and compassion.

Prosecutor Kuveshni Pillay said Wentworth was engulfed in a wave of violent crime, but should not be blamed for the actions of Johnson.

“(He) had a choice. The State argues for the prescribed sentence of 15 years.” Sentencing is expected on February 5.

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