Cape Town - As a hail of bullets ripped through her windows and front door, 73-year-old Latifah Isaacs made a frantic duck for cover.
The Ottery grandmother’s efforts to escape proved futile - she had been hit.
Isaacs crouched down on her living room floor, blood pouring from her leg, while the shooting outside continued unabated. On Sunday morning, she became the most recent victim of a gang war that has left a community in Ottery living in fear for years.
“I’m struggling to walk. I hope to get crutches. I’ve lived here for 35 years and still can’t sleep properly at night. It is terrible. The shootings happen any time. Very often I have to lie down on the floor at night as I fear being shot,” she said.
Following an hour-long shoot-out between the Mongrels and the Euro Cats gangs, police said 36 “community members” were arrested.
However, a reliable source said those arrested were “gangsters from both sides”. He said police intervened and tried to stop the shooting, but were pelted with stones.
“On Sunday, at about 9am, a docket of public violence was opened by Grassy Park police as members of the SAPS had stones thrown at them by the community. Thirty-six community members were arrested on charges of public violence,” said police spokesperson FC van Wyk.
The accused appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday and were released on warning.
The source said the flare-up came after a 29-year-old man was shot dead outside his home in Duiker Avenue, Lotus River, on Saturday.
“The Mongrels lined up on one side of the field and the Euro Cats on the other. They started firing at each other non-stop. It was madness. They were using R4 rifles and AK-47s - it was like a war zone.”
Jeremy Vearey, head of Operation Combat, a police operation targeting gangsterism in the province, said bullet casings were being examined to determine what kind of weaponry the gangsters were using.
“We have had success in taking down (gang) leadership and bringing peace, but a number of factors result in flare-ups. You have the old brand and then the younger generation coming in, and they fight for different reasons. We also see factors like poverty and joblessness which never change,” Vearey said.
“We will police it like we always police it, but 10 years from now we will be saying the same things unless the root causes of these problems are addressed.”
When the Cape Times visited the area on Tuesday, Russel Court, a block of recently refurbished flats, was riddled with 63 bullet holes, some more than 3cm in diameter.
Russel Court resident Felicity Diedricks, 54, also had a stray bullet come through her kitchen window recently.
“My brother and and my nephew were in the kitchen at the time. They ducked for cover when they heard the shots,” Diedricks said.
“I’m on my nerves here. It happens at anytime, any day and it never ends.”
Jody Heuwel, 35, was shot in the same block of flats six years ago. “I was hit by a stray bullet just under my heart. I was 29. The bullet was stuck between my ribs. You can be killed at any time here; that’s just how it is,” he said.
Ward councillor Melanie Arendse said the community held the key to ending the violence. “We feel the army should be deployed, but the real people with power are the residents.
“People must stand up and speak out.”
Reformed gangster Clifford Caesar, 29, was a gang member for 20 years before he joined the Life Changers Foundation. The NGO uses social development programmes and offers gangsters a fresh chance at life.
“This gang war started in the early 80s. I have seen more than 20 friends and three relatives killed,” he said.