Durban - A packed church was petrol-bombed, a man shot dead and a 71-year-old woman hit in the arm by a stray bullet as gang war gripped Wentworth.
Religious leaders and residents believe the violence, over a 48-hour period, was sparked by the murder of a former gangster outside a Florida Road nightclub two weeks ago.
Now, in the midst of a spike in drive-by shootings and clashes between rival gangs - over the lucrative drug trade - residents of the south Durban suburb are questioning why police recently shut down a gang task force set up by the Hawks two years ago.
Pastor John Bailey, a community organiser, said the latest violence had been caused by the vacuum left after police shut the task team.
“We have no idea why they shut down that unit. They managed to quell the violence and made some good arrests. There was absolutely no reason given for its closure. We even wrote to the provincial police commissioner asking them to keep the Hawks unit for another year, but they didn’t,” he said.
The latest violence comes after the death of Kyle Morrow, 32, a father of three, who was shot dead, allegedly by an off-duty policeman.
It is claimed he had clashed with members of the Destroyer gang at a nightclub in Florida Road.
Police are also investigating an incident in which a gang opened fire on a home in Wentworth just hours after Morrow was killed. The occupants, who requested anonymity, were close friends of Morrow. They have since fled the home.
During Morrow’s burial last Friday, police arrested a man who allegedly spat at the coffin and threatened mourners.
Police spokesman, Major Shooz Magudulela, said the 46-year-old man had been charged with public violence and possession of a firearm while under the influence of liquor. He was expected to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court soon.
On Sunday, the Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Lubby Road, Wentworth, was attacked with a petrol-bomb, allegedly by gangsters.
The petrol bomb, however, did not ignite.
The pastor of the church, Donovan Anderson, is Morrow’s uncle.
He believes his nephew’s murder and the petrol bomb attack are linked.
Anderson said a visiting pastor from America had been preaching to a packed hall when the incident happened after 7pm.
“A lady was seated on a bench with her child in her arms. She saw the silhouette of a man. She saw something fly through the air and it crashed next to her on the wall. It did not ignite. She screamed and ran into the church. A few of us rushed outside while the service continued,” he said.
Anderson said the church was part of the crime prevention effort in Wentworth, which made it a target for gangsters.
“The recent spate of shootings is revenge attacks. You shoot me, I shoot you. The work we are doing is against crime in the area. We are caught in the middle,” Anderson said.
In July 2014, 12 church communities and worshippers from the local mosque undertook a peace healing walk through the Austerville community, stopping and praying at each corner and speaking to drug dealers and drug addicts.
The petrol-bomb attack followed the killing of 25-year-old Kyle Sewell, who was shot 11 times on Friday. He died in hospital, Magudulela said.
Eric Sewell, Kyle’s father, said they were still coming to terms with his death.
“I had seen him earlier. He was at his cousin’s home having a braai. I believe he went to buy airtime from the petrol station store, and on his way back a car followed him.
“The occupant in the car shot him. My son fell and he was shot in the back. While he was on the ground, he was shot again. His jersey had 23 bullet holes. We are not sure if the bullets went through him because he was shot at close range. I am investigating several leads,” he said.
The family were still making funeral arrangements.
Magudulela said a 25-year-old man had been arrested for murder.
He appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
“Bail was denied. He will appear on June 6 for bail consideration,” Magudulela said.
Also on Friday night, a few blocks away from where Sewell was shot, a group of men sprayed a block of flats in Wiest Road with bullets, injuring 71-year-old Thelma Wiseman.
Speaking on Monday to the Daily News outside a clinic where she had gone for treatment, Wiseman said she was lucky to be alive.
The bullet had hit her just above the elbow, but it moved and lodged under her shoulder bone.
“We could not go to Wentworth Hospital that night because of Sewell’s death. His entire entourage was there. Instead, I was taken to King Edward VIII Hospital.
“I am now under medication.
“The swelling has to go down before they remove the bullet in two weeks. I am supposed to be relaxing and enjoying myself, but now I fear to even step out the flat. I fear for my life and if I would make the next appointment.
“I urge the community to stand up and stop this violence,” she said.
Police said they were investigating several incidents in Wentworth.
Magudulela urged the community to come forward and help police in their investigations.
Hawks spokesman, Lieutenant Siyabonga Mhlongo, said the gang and drug unit was established in June 2014 with a time frame.
He said that the project’s goal had been achieved.
However, now that violence had emerged, the project could be relaunched, subject to approval from the provincial commissioner.