Child soldiers on the Cape Flats are a harsh reality
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The power of light inspires all peace builders. Peace is possible in Hanover Park and on the Cape Flats with united action that also involves the reconceptualisation of the nature and causes of the violence.
Active community involvement and the strategic use of resources from the government and other agencies can turn the tide of war to peace.
The community and the state have thus far been unable to stem the bloodletting, violence and killings. Despite these contradictions, examples of greatness exist in Hanover Park.
Insurrectionary armed gangs are in an uninterrupted war for control of township economies, where legal and illicit trade takes place and drug economies fuel the ongoing violence. Young children have been dehumanised by competing non-state armed groups.
These children have become armed and are recruited as child soldiers to kill and protect warlords and “their markets”.
At a “Child Soldiers on the Cape Flats” public dialogue held at UCT on May 9, Dr Jino Mwaka, a Catholic priest, rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Sacred Heart from Uganda, said: “The child soldier in the Ugandan context has been associated with groups directly working to overthrow established state institutions.
However, in other contexts, children may become participants trapped in the violence of armed groups in their own communities. They are still children at war that may be confrontational with state institutions.
“When children are forced to become part of these armed groups and become killers, they too are child soldiers.”
Titania Fernandez, from Community Chest, who spoke at the public dialogue, agreed that child soldiers on the Cape Flats are an undeniable reality. “What flows from this conceptual denial is that no solutions are generated.”
Professor Dianna Yach, an associate professor in law at UCT, said: “What is discomforting is that so many are below the age of 12 and are playing an active part as foot soldiers in support of local warlords.
“Child soldiers on the Cape Flats exist. This is the lived reality of the children and families and people who live there.”
But for me, the most shocking matter is the denial that any of this is happening. Some commentators are more concerned about defining who or what is a “gangster” or who or not is a “child soldier” that they insulate themselves and wider society from taking effective action.
Maulana Tahaa Rodrigues, a Muslim cleric and community leader from Hanover Park, said the “coloured communities of the Cape Flats are worst affected by the child soldier phenomenon children are being used to kill the community is in a state of war problems are getting worse”.
Pastor Ayanda warned that African communities face new challenges. “Slowly we see the problem of child soldiers also here in Langa.”
Father Jonathan, a Catholic priest in Hanover Park, said: “The community is under siege and in a seemingly permanent war. Many of our people have not known peace.”
One interlinking thread identified the colonial context and apartheid as decisive factors in shaping inequalities and violence: from genocidal destruction of self-reliant forms of social organisation of indigenous people at the Cape, to total dispossession, enslavement, injustice and poverty.
The worst forms of exploitation and oppression were first experienced at the Cape before it impacted on the rest of the country.
Structural violence and cultural violence remain multi-layered and oppressively injected. Apartheid perfected the socially engineered horror with the Group Areas Act which created segregated ghettos, influenced by a military “design for destruction” township model.
The Cape Flats, where the descendants of the indigenous people of the Cape live, was specifically targeted for social destruction by the apartheid government.
These ghettos served as experimental sites for chemical warfare strategies of the apartheid government.
Cape Flats townships today are highly toxic. It is the constitutional obligation of the political authorities to exercise permanent control of a geographical area of the country under its jurisdiction and to protect its citizens from violence.
A multi-agency team must be assembled that holistically looks at Hanover Park and other Cape Flats communities. A political will across ideological divides can effect conflict transformation.
Twin strategies of building peace and containing violence are needed to ensure sustainable development. Peace education and peace action projects to find solutions to rescue the perpetrators and the victims must be expanded.
A reconceptualisation of the nature of the shadowy war on the Cape Flats is necessary. The existence of child soldiers linked to permanent non-state armed groups can no longer be ignored.
A master plan that includes the strategic use of resources must be activated.
A call that all communities must take direct responsibility to unite on the protection of children was endorsed at the public dialogue.
It is only through holistic and strategic action by affected communities acting in solidarity with other sectors of society that the wicked problems will be sustainably addressed.
We must become our own liberators.
* Brian Williams is a visiting professor (peace, mediation, reconciliation and labour relations) at the University of the Sacred Heart in Gulu, Uganda, as well as chief executive at Williams Labour Law Mediation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.