NATASHA BEZUIDENHOUT and ESTHER LEWIS
THE ARMY, the police’s tactical response unit, metro police and traffic officers have been sent into gang-ravaged Lavender Hill, the “most dangerous place” on the Cape Flats, in response to several gang-related murders and daily shootings.
Yesterday, a helicopter hovered over the area as the 13-member team conducted stop-and-search operations on Military Road before being sent to Grassy Park and Ottery.
Western Cape police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Andrè Traut said the swoop was one of many planned for areas across Cape Town in the next few months.
“High numbers” of police would be sent in over the festive season.
At least 64 people have been shot dead in gang-related violence across the city since the beginning of June.
The body count in Lavender Hill since September stands at seven – at least.
Yesterday, Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said Lavender Hill was the most dangerous place on the Cape Flats. It had overtaken Hanover Park, to which he had given that title in July.
Steenberg CPF chairman Kevin Southgate said Lavender Hill was extremely tense.
A peace agreement between local gangs last year had lasted only a few months and violence erupted again eight months ago.
Gangs in Steenberg, Retreat and Lavender Hill include the Junky Funky Kids, Corner Boys, Mongrels, and Americans.
“It is very difficult to tell how many gangsters there are in the area because new recruits are not required to have tattoos.”
Southgate said the tactical response unit would be deployed in the area for two days, conducting stop-and-searches.
“There is an ongoing call for this situation to be declared a state of emergency,” Southgate said.
Lavender Hill resident Caroline Prins, 70, said she heard gunshots almost every night.
“Most of the time it starts at midnight. Sometimes you can hear up to 20 shots. I am very scared and stay home most of the time.”
, too frightened to be identified, said gang members were using machine guns.
“We don’t know where they get their guns these days. We wish the military would come at night and not during the day. Our children must run home straight after school. We don’t feel safe,” said a parent.
A 43-year-old father said he was lucky to escape unharmed when gangsters started shooting at each other as he crossed a field.
“I had to drop down to the ground... I didn’t know what to do. I’m afraid for my four-year-old son’s safety,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hanover Park gang violence has abated and residents say they can walk the streets again without having to look over their shoulders.
The calm follows violence in October in which 28 people died.
Hanover Park CPF spokesman Ebrahim Abrahams said the violence mostly involved the Americans and the Mongrels.
About 1 000 of the area’s more than 40 000 residents are gang members, most of whom are under the age of 25, he added.
The big drug lords were funding the wars, which were sparked by robberies around the Freedom Square shops near the taxi terminus.
The Mongrels control a small area near the terminus, while the Americans are spread throughout most parts of the area.
Crystal High School principal Dino Abrahams said on most days the first school period was used for debriefing the pupils after gang shootings.
“(During the shootings) they couldn’t lie on top of their beds or sit at a table and study. If they were too high, they could be hit by a stray bullet. Attendance at school also dropped.”
The children were deeply traumatised, he said.
For two weeks at the end of October, teachers picketed outside the school between 7am and 8am, pleading for the violence to end.
Traut could not confirm October’s death toll of 28 because they “do not release crime statistics”.
But the information was relayed by Philippi police to the Hanover Park CPF during a recent meeting and Plato confirmed the information.
On November 16, Plato witnessed the signing of a peace treaty between Hanover Park gangs.
The past few weeks had brought about a noticeable change, said the principal. Abrahams said the children were more at ease, and were now free to visit friends and move around freely. School attendance had increased.
Hanover Park community leader Ricardo Sedres said the tension had lifted, which was evident in the number of people walking around with toddlers and children playing outside.