Cape Town – When two gangsters walked free in the Western Cape High Court on Monday in the Angelo Davids murder case in which Roegshanda Pascoe testified, her children’s response was “nou is ons vrek (now we are dead)".
“It’s very depressing that my children feel they have nowhere to turn to. And as a mother I feel like I have failed them because I believed the justice system would protect us.”
The Manenberg community activist, who has been kept in safety with her children and grandchildren since she started testifying in March, told the Cape Times: “Of the three accused I testified against, one of the gang members has been released and two have been found guilty of murder and will be sentenced on the 9th of September.
“The fourth accused, against whom the police testified, was caught on camera with a knife in his hand but was set free. The leader of the Clever Kids gang (Mogamat Faeez Hendricks) is one of the accused who has been found guilty.
“The question one has to ask is: Is the court the right court to judge on gang cases and whether the magistrate is aware of the demographics criminally and how things are working in communities. This case has proven that our justice system is not equipped to handle what is coming.
“We should get separate courts for gang cases and get magistrates who focus on gang warfare.”
Pascoe’s decision to testify was painfully brought into question in a Facebook post by her 24-year-old son on Monday.
“My son posted on Facebook he wouldn’t recommend testifying and exposing yourself like that and then being left out to dry, because he wouldn’t even wish that on any of his enemies.
“That kind of hurt me and is also pushing me to fight for the system to be more for the people than against them.”
On the night before she was set to testify on March 6, her son was the main target when unknown gunmen opened fire on her home. Earlier that day, she had been moved to a house of safety.
The sound of her grandchildren crying in the background, when her son called to inform her that they had managed to survive a hail of bullets relatively unscathed, still haunts her.
Pascoe, her son, two daughters, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren have no idea what the future holds for them. Knowing the gangsters, who threatened to kill her last week before the judgment, could strike at any time.
All because she was the only one among many Manenberg residents who opted to testify after Davids, 26, an alleged member of the Hard Livings gang, was brutally assaulted a few metres from Pascoe's house and later died.
“Once you have finished testifying, the police don’t have any business with you anymore, unless you are targeted and something has actually happened to you.
“My family and I are faced with the reality that we can’t go back to Manenberg. We are practically homeless. We are sitting with a State that doesn’t care what happens to witnesses afterwards.
“The biggest challenge for us now is picking up the pieces, getting stability so that we can move on. A woman from the Legal Centre is going to call on the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) and all relevant government departments to get us a safe home, even if that means drawing funds from all of the departments regarding this matter and changing policy how State witnesses should be looked after. That is a long shot."
Pascoe is aware that her fate will further deter Cape Flats residents from testifying against gangsters.
“One of the young boys who was shot in Manenberg on Saturday morning, me and his mother grew up together. That boy was shot and he didn’t want to lay a charge.
"He said he was going to leave it, even though he saw his shooter, because he still wants to live in Manenberg.
“So we are going to sit with more cases where people are going to be too afraid to defend themselves in court because there is no protection for them. We are sitting with a State that doesn’t look after its people. Speaking from personal experience, this country is in a mess.
"We have tried to pitch a plan for three to four years now on the violence in Manenberg, saying this is how we can have a medium and longer-term vision and really be preventative instead of reactive, without success.
"We have the manpower in our communities but we need to use the volunteers to benefit the country. What I have been doing to an extent is half of the under-resourced and under-skilled police's work. When they do investigations and I get information, I share it with them.
"There are neighbourhood watches that do the same. They gave us the Anti-Gang Unit number for anonymous tip-offs, but you have to corroborate it to stand up in a court of law, which means the 'anonymous' still have to go and testify, otherwise the perpetrator walks free. So that's not of any use then.
"If you look at the UCT student (Uyinene Mrwetyana), if it wasn’t for the parents who got private investigators, I don’t think they would have had a suspect appearing in court. Unfortunately for the people on the Cape Flats, they don’t have that privilege.
"The law has to be changed. Why can police only act after the fact and not before? When a person threatens you in public and says I am going to kill you, this is a criminal case. In SA, it’s not a criminal case until the act has happened.
"This is the kind of things we should change. Also, when a person has committed a murder, he has revoked his human rights, when he rapes he has revoked his human rights as a law-abiding citizen, but the message out there is the criminal can do what he wishes and has even more rights than I have.
"It’s going to be a journey to make my children understand why I am doing what I am doing and why I stand for what I stand for, but at his moment they are paying for what I do."
Pascoe was asked to join a movement protesting against gender-based violence who plan to sleep in front of Parliament this week and chain themselves to gates outside.
"They have asked me to come. I said I would like to in solidarity, but I have to be careful because the gang members that have been released can still execute on instruction from the gang leader, even from jail."