File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Community activists believe calling a state of emergency or deploying the army in violence-riddled Cape Flats communities is not the answer. 

Instead, they would rather have the army partner communities in a non-militarised role, assisting in development and upliftment rather than only succeeding in exercising "short-term control". 

They have reached out to the army in this regard and are awaiting a response, said Gloria Oliver, of Samekoms (Coming Together), which represents different communities on the Cape Flats – Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Heideveld, Hanover Park and Zeekoevlei.

Highlighting that "South Africa has always responded in a violent way to all our problems", Oliver said they are looking for partnerships with the army in programmes, for example, which will enable them to occupy the youth proactively through sport and nature activities, which is something largely foreign to youths "living in concentration camps".

Gatto Wanza, from Samekoms, added: "We need to talk about how do we use the land that is in the hands of the state and the army to conduct programmes where people are in touch with nature?"

Due to the "economic situation" being at the root of the problem, an initiative has also been launched, "Balls not guns", to address the fact that there are too many guns on the streets.

"All that some people are promoting is more violence. The army coming in is terrorising a community that already lives in fear. So we don't believe the army policing the community is going to solve the problem," said Wanza.

Commenting on Minister of Community Safety Albert Fritz saying, "in the past, communities have called for a state of emergency and this is something that the national government needs to consider in a bid to bring peace to the area", Oliver said: "It's not the answer. We are wanting to build peaceful communities with all stakeholders and to find solutions. 

"In the 80s, the state of emergency was all about controlling the communities and is a short-term solution that doesn't deal with the root of the challenges we have." 

The plea for action is at a fever pitch after six women between the ages of 18 and 26 years were murdered at a residence in the Marcus Garvey informal settlement in Philippi East on Friday night. And on Saturday night five men, aged 18 to 39, were shot dead in Philippi, while two people were shot dead in separate incidents in Hanover Park and Delft.

The police have launched a 72-hour lockdown in Philippi in response to the killings.

Wanza said: "Living on the Cape Flats, we realise that the answer to the shootings is in the hands of the communities. We have started a process which is called 'Balls not guns' in which the community is actively engaging in alternative programmes to restore peace and friendship in our communities. 

"We don't believe we must direct all our answers and energies to the state to find solutions. The solutions lie with the community.

"We are engaging with the army to come to our communities but not with weapons. Instead, we are looking at alternative programmes that the army can partner in with the community. So meetings are being set up with the army to look at alternatives."

When asked if the gangsters are going to buy into this, Wanza said: "In Manenberg, we are engaging with the gangsters and it's about raising awareness that they are part of our community. They are not our enemies. That is the language with which we are engaging with them and they appreciate that.

"What we realise is that containing the violence is a problem because there are so many weapons that are out on the street. Whenever there is individual conflict among certain people, they resort to violence instead of sorting out the problem.

"We are engaging with them and saying we have to find alternative conflict-resolution methods. So the mothers are playing a big role in that."

On how to one day create an environment where people don't immediately resort to using guns in conflict situations, Wanza said: "What we are saying is we need to get the weapons out of our communities. We need to look at alternatives to the economic situation. 

"Because the root cause of the problem is that in the wealthy areas people are not running around with guns killing each other.

"It is an economic issue that needs to be addressed. We need to talk about the development of our communities. How do we turn things around? How do we create an environment where there is no need for gangsterism and no need for guns. 

"So people are talking about how do we start an amnesty where people can bring in their guns? How do you smelt those guns and use that material for community activities?

"So we don't believe the army policing the community is going to solve the problem. The gangs and the community need to come together.

"If you look at our communities, people are trapped in concentration camps. People have been displaced in the communities. 

"When we talk about programmes, we need to talk about land restoration. Our youth don't know what it means to be in touch with nature."

Oliver added: "We are wanting to build peaceful communities with all stakeholders and to find solutions. In the 80s the state of emergency was all about controlling the communities and is a short-term solution that doesn't deal with the root of the challenges we have.

"It's kind of plastering over the cracks again. Everything gets suspended and the defence force just comes in and takes control. 

"How does community ownership come into that aspect. We want communities to take ownership. Right now communities are hiding in fear and most stakeholders aren't active at all.

"When they withdraw the state of emergency, what happens then? Are we back to where we were?

"What is the long-term objective of a state of emergency. If you do have a child that is out of control, you need to look at the root of the problem and where the bad behaviour is coming from. 

"I wouldn't make the whole household suffer because that is literally what happens. It's bringing security solutions into social problems."

Cape Times