Roegshanda Pascoe Photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Sitting in a safe house, community activist Roegshanda Pascoe fears she may never be able to return to her Manenberg home again. There is "little support for people who put their lives – and those of their immediate family – at risk by testifying in court against gangsters", Pascoe said.

Even a so-called safe area is not safe. "We are in safety and yet just two weeks ago a gun was put to my 15-year-old daughter's head for a phone the other day. No matter where you go, you are always confronted with the violence. Luckily, she didn't take her phone with her to the shop.

"We have been ripped totally from our roots and everything that means something to us," Pascoe, 44, said on Thursday. She has had to move four times in four months for safety reasons.

Believing that gangsters' influence spreads far and wide, the army being deployed on the Cape Flats from Friday offers the mother of three children and three grandchildren negligible solace or hope. At the same time, she has to cope with her 64-year-old mother having been diagnosed with cancer.

She is of the opinion that the violence and murders wouldn't have escalated to the degree where a second mortuary had to be built in Cape Town if the plan she and other activists had tried to push through in 2014/15 for an all-encompassing solution, involving several departments at a national and provincial level, to the Cape Flats' ills was put in place.

Being willing to testify against four members of the Clever Kidz gang who were allegedly responsible for the death of Angelo Davids has changed her life and those of her immediate family forever. In July 2016, she and her grandson, aged three at the time, were among Manenberg residents who watched helplessly as Davids, who died in hospital hours later, was brutally assaulted a few metres from Pascoe's house.

When none of the other witnesses came forward, Pascoe, against the advice of her ex-husband, who feared the consequences, decided to become a State witness.

On the night of March 6 this year, unknown gunmen opened fire on her home. Earlier in the day – the day before she was set to testify in court – she had been moved to a house of safety, but the sound of her grandchildren in the background, when her son called her to inform her of what had happened, still haunts her.

"My eldest son faced the gunman, who emptied the magazine on him, but luckily a bullet only brushed his knee as he stepped back from the door and fell on the couch. He felt helpless because his children were screaming and he had his wife on the other side. My grandchildren were six and three years old and four months old at the time.

Posters that were put up outside Parliament on Thursday during a picket by the Western Cape Policing Forum Board. Photos: Louis Neethling

"They are still struggling to overcome what happened. My son is telling me constantly that when he closes his eyes, the picture of the man who pointed the gun and started shooting plays over and over in his head. 

"My ex-husband was one one of the people who came to warn me to say that 'If they are not going to kill me, they are going to kill our children and you know that is how they operate'. 

"When I requested after the shooting that he and his wife take the younger child so that she can go on with her schooling, he refused. My ex-husband never approved of what I was doing and when this transpired, it was like he said, 'Ja, I've spoken the truth. You've endangered our children and now you want me to come and help'."

Pascoe says her three children and three grandchildren are all "survivors" – the youngest one even before turning a year old.

"I have three kids. My son is 24, my middle daughter 21 and youngest daughter 15. In 2013, my middle one was shot and she turned survivor when the bullet went right through her leg. 

"She has pain and it swells up at times but she is functional with the leg. The scar is a constant reminder of what happened and she doesn't want to wear shorts or anything because she is very aware of the mark on her lower leg.

"Then four months ago she survived again when my whole house was shot. And then two weeks ago a gun was put to her head. 

"Currently we are in safety now through the organisation I am working with. But my youngest daughter can't go to school nor my oldest grandson.

"My big concern is, when I look at Facebook and a lot of people say why don't people say they know who the shooters are, why don't they step forward. It's easy to say, but not once you are in it like myself personally. 

"The State doesn't really give support to you, you are left on your own. So my concern is who is going to speak out because at the moment  nobody is protecting us in our community. 

"And as crime-fighters we are trying our best and look at my self putting my life and my children's lives on the line, not even those community members have our backs.

"I can't always stay in the house. I have to travel, I have to attend meetings and if it wasn't for good people, I tell you, I wouldn't be able to still get around. I'm totally cut off to a certain extent. If I do something, it must be under the radar. 

"I even have to beg people not to tell people when I come. They must leave it until I'm there because you can't trust nothing. 

"My eldest grandson is working on our nerves but I can understand him and I know it's an effect of the trauma and that is why he is acting out in ways that he never has before. Because a child is not an adult who is able to transform the anger into something. Sometimes I look at him and I think the scar is far bigger than I thought it would be."

There is no escape from the trauma for Pascoe – not even in sleep.

"If I really want to rest and take time out, I have to do it with sleeping pills because I am unable to sleep. I have a bereavement trauma support worker and there is a trauma centre that is supportive towards me."

Pascoe refused an offer of witness protection because the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) wanted to relocate her entire family to another province and she is instead relying on the organisation she works with, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, to keep her safe.

"The NPA, what does it stand for? Just for prosecuting and not thinking that the witnesses themselves are victims. Because nobody looks back to what happened. 

"There is a lot of witnesses in our community who are currently not in safety. You are to a certain extent totally silenced, and they come back to their communities who don't care. 

"I have spoken to a few witnesses and the reason why they left (their community) is because you might as well be dead. Because they will put you in the State safety protection and then you must find your feet yourself, you must get a job. 

"You must really relocate everything on your own. They just provide you with a space to live and you must start a new life being unemployed, so it's not something better that comes to you. 

"And then you have to live with the fact that, because gangs are spread all over, anybody can take you out at any time. The only thing they did to support me was they came and fetched me to testify and brought me back safely. When I had to move from one place to another, they assisted me with moving around. 

"Because of this case we have had to move around a lot because of the safety aspect. We can't be in one place at a time for too long. In four months, we have had to move four times."

Commenting on Cele's plans to halt the killing spree and the gang violence on the Cape Flats by bringing in the SANDF, Pascoe said: "The State itself has opened a door and created a platform for gangs to reign in this area. 

"We as activists in Manenberg had a blueprint for a short-term, medium-term and long-term goal. In 2014-15, we approached them (government) and said here's a plan and we can work towards this plan and this can be used in other communities to prevent this from happening. 

"They declined. We submitted it to the national office, to the provincial office, saying we as organisations are prepared to work with you to put this plan in action. 

"This was long before the violence escalated to this level. We spoke out strongly as activists and said that this was going to get worse. This is the sad part for me to see that we have tried our utmost best to speak to them. 

"Manenberg has had the army a few times. What we had was a humanised violation and the people are quite right when they say the army is not trained to address these things. 

"My request for the army was that the army must come so that we can turn these communities upside down. Where they close off the entrances and exits of these areas and the police must go in with their sniffer dogs and metal detectors to get the guns off the street and out of homes.

"Up to now, that hasn't even been done. Guns are flooding the community. Guns are stolen, police officers sell their guns to the gangs. So we sit with a security breakdown of state departments, and safety and the law amount to nothing because of the corruption. 

"So our leadership, they can't start blaming each other because the mortuary is unable to handle all the deaths. Two or three months ago the mortuary couldn't handle the volume of deaths and then they build another mortuary and that mortuary hasn't even opened and pathologists are complaining it's too much. 

"It's the police constables that are putting their lives on the line because they are also being set up just like the people, because of the political games that are being played with our lives." 

When asked what she would say if Cele came knocking at her door offering help, she said: "I would tell him to f*** off because it's not the first time he is in that position. 

"He is quite right to say he knows what is happening because he was there (as police minister) before and did nothing. So he must now be honest and say who is pulling his strings not to act in the interest of the people. That I would like to hear from him. 

"We must start exposing those who are putting red tape there and really stopping the police from doing their work. Where is the gang intelligence because the gangs are always one step ahead of them because they don't have a safety plan?

"They must be able to think out of the box and be able to connect the dots. Me, who doesn't have a degree, is doing that and serving my community. Yet they who have the resources and the manpower, they are not able to have the foresight and see what is going to happen."

Cape Times