Time to end this civil war on the Cape Flats
Working-class communities on the Cape Flats are engulfed in a deadly civil conflict. Gang turf wars, drug peddling, violent crime, murders, sexual assaults, killing of children and the incessant breakdown of the fabric of family and community life are the day-to-day realities of residents.
In the first six months of this year, 900 people were murdered in gang violence on the Cape Flats, bringing the total number of murders in the City of Cape Town in this period to 1600.
These figures are based on mortuary statistics between January and June 2019 and have made 2019 the worst year for violent deaths in history. The current death toll at the end of July is closer to 2000, and in the midst of these killings we have a population of traumatised survivors, witnesses and families.
The upsurge in violent deaths on the Cape Flats, where bodies are punctured with bullets, means that it takes pathologists four times longer to complete an autopsy - the reason for the space constraint crisis at morgues.
The current spike in murders has prompted the government to deploy the SANDF in 10 townships on the Cape Flats. Sending in the army may be a necessary short-term strategy, but we know this will not address the root causes of violence nor bring about social and systemic change in these communities.
As one activist put it, the Cape Flats needs armies of social workers, trauma counsellors, psychologists, remedial education practitioners, skills development practitioners, drug rehabilitation support groups, sports coaches, town planners, architects and builders. This is not the first time the army has been deployed to townships. We know it would be foolhardy to believe that when the army withdraws in three months’ time, the problem of gang and sexual violence, drugs and crime will suddenly disappear.
People in townships will still be poor, unemployed, living in overcrowded spaces with poor state services and desperate for a better life. Deploying the army in townships is nothing more than sticking a band aid on a much deeper, festering wound of persistent poverty and hopeless realities.
There are people living outside of these war zones who may feel safe and sufficiently removed to be unaffected by this conflict. But theirs is a false sense of security.
We are all in this city together and constitute a living ecosystem. While some may not experience the day-to-day violence that others do, the social breakdown and conflict will not be confined by the railway line or highway separating us.
It will spread and intensify, unless we commit to finding ways of building resistance, resilience, solidarity and courage to bring about systemic change in our working-class townships to reverse the social breakdown and end this civil war and the war on humanity.
I would like to share five modest strategies that we could adopt to support and show solidarity with the Cape Flats communities under siege by gang violence and crime.
* First, we need to make our voices heard loudly and clearly that there is a war happening in our midst and that our government, local and national, has failed to curb gang violence on the Cape Flats and needs to do more.
We must call for more concerted strategies to tackle and bring down drug cartels and arms dealers that sustain the businesses of gangs. More social services and recreational facilities must provide alternative outlets for youth. There must be more skills development centres and job creation strategies so we can reduce the rate of unemployment in our townships. We need to amplify calls for more low-cost social housing to reduce overcrowding and provide opportunities for people to live closer to their places of work.
* Second, we need to support and strengthen the many vibrant civil society organisations on the Cape Flats. We need to encourage these organisations to collaborate in pursuit of the common goal of creating safer and more wholesome communities.
Many community-based organisations, whether youth groups, church groups, choirs, marching bands, masjid congregations, women’s groups, running or walking clubs, neighbourhood watches, provide people with safe spaces of belonging, of caring for each other, of doing things together and of building community.
In this regard, I call on the citizens of Cape Town to join the Mom’s Move for Justice March to Parliament today. This will highlight the plight of the mothers who have lost children in the gang violence.
* Third, it is the responsibility of people of faith to keep the lamp of hope alive. We need to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. There are numerous positive and inspiring stories coming from our communities that need to be shared.
* Fourth, we need to support teachers, social workers, medical doctors and religious leaders who work in and serve affected communities, often putting their lives at risk.
* Fifth, we need to remember the victims and communities living on the Cape Flats in our daily supplications and prayers. In this regard the interfaith prayer service in solidarity on Sunday, August 18, hosted by the Service and Allied Workers Union of SA, should be supported.
* Rashied Omar has a PhD in religious studies from UCT and an MA in peace studies from Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where he is now a core faculty member.