Qaadir Allen Cleophas Photo: Facebook

Cape Town – "Innocent bystander shot dead in gang crossfire" is sadly a common headline on the Cape Flats. 

If you make the mistake of being in a hot spot for gang warfare at the wrong time, it could be the last one you make. 

But it's more complicated and riskier than that: for you can be deemed a member of a specific gang – and a threat, especially youths –simply by crossing the road from where you live and entering another gang's turf.

The latest victims in Manenberg were 20-year-old arts student Qaadir Allen Cleophas, who died in hospital; mother-of-two Zaida Bester, 31, who still had a bullet lodged in her back after being discharged from hospital; and mother-of-one Sharne van Niekerk, 20, who is in hospital after a bullet entered her head in nearby flats where the shooting took place.

The area in which they were shot is a known hot spot for gang warfare. But it's the artificial demarcations gangs create in Manenberg, among others, that make daily living risky for residents.

According to Manenberg ward councillor Aslam Cassiem, everyone is indirectly affiliated to a gang, especially when it's teenagers, simply because of the area in which they live. 

Gang members from the Hard Livings, for example, could easily assume you are a member of the Fancy Boys or Clever Kids gangs treading on their turf.

The police came under attack in Manenberg when they tried to intervene in Wednesday's gang warfare and the army, who were in in the suburb – which doesn't even feature in the top 30 in the national murder statistics released on Thursday – earlier in the day, had to be brought in to stabilise the situation.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana confirmed that Manenberg police are investigating cases of murder and attempted murder after a shooting incident at 5am on Wednesday in an open field opposite Grietta Court  

"According to information, four men and a female were shot. A 20-year-old man died due to his injuries, while four victims aged between 19 and 31, including a female, were wounded. 

"They were transported to hospital for treatment. Circumstances surrounding this incident are under investigation with no arrests so far."

The other three people injured are believed to be members of the Hard Livings gang.

A relative of Cleophas, who had a bullet rip through his stomach, told the Daily Voice: "At the time when they were shooting, he just went to his uncle and got in the gunfire. They took him to hospital but he didn't make it.

"He was a good man and not even part of this gang stuff. He went to university and even started his own barber business at home to pay for his fees."

Bester's mother Ellaam said: "They said they can't take the bullet out because it's on a nerve, but we are taking her back because she says it's moving."

Van Niekerk's boyfriend, Sibusiso Mikalali, said: "All I know is the bullet went in her head. Our one-year-old son, Ashwin, has been crying for her."

Cassiem himself recently experienced the randomness of being at the mercy of gangs in Manenberg when the lives of Expanded Public Works Programme workers working at a dumping site were threatened.

"The other day I was doing oversight when two groups of gangs came together and started shooting. 

"They shot one of our council workers in the arm and I had to rush him to hospital. Fortunately, the bullet went right through," said Cassiem.

Commenting on the fact that it's often the innocent who get caught in the gang crossfire, Cassiem said: "Even with the after-school activities and programmes that we have at municipal facilities, sometimes the kids can't walk from one road to the other because of the artificial demarcations in the community.

"These demarcations are created by gangs. So if the Americans are in one road and the Fancy Boys gang in a different road, the kids from one side can't come over to the other side. 

"So it stops our children from accessing municipal recreational facilities because very often they can't walk where they want to.

"If you should walk on the Cape Flats, they won't say that this is the Downs area or the Elsieskraal area. 

"Instead of using the proper names, areas have other connotations – like this is the HLs (Hard Livings), this is the Fancy Boys area or this is the Clever Kids area.

"It also affects municipal service delivery as well, where they are issues of blocked drains and so on and municipal workers cannot go in because of these demarcations.

"The most vulnerable are teenagers. So automatically when you reside in a particular area, you are affiliated with that particular gang.

"Often we or a community member inform the schools so they can use their discretion to dismiss the learners earlier or keep them safe within the school grounds."

Regarding why residents feel obliged to assist the gangs by attacking the police, Cassiem pointed out that mass unemployment and poverty could be to blame.

"Drug dealers often assist parents who need money to feed their hungry children. 

"So somehow they become coerced in this relationship they have with drug dealers, because they are the only ones who will be there to give them some money."

Cape Times