True Crime: ’The death sentence you face when testifying against killer gangsters’ in South Africa
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Cape Town – Cape Flats activist Roegshanda Pacoe has pulled no punches in calling Bonteheuwel councillor Angus McKenzie and police ’’mad and irresponsible’’ for urging those who witnessed an alleged gang leader being killed to come forward.
“It’s easy for him to talk because he will not suffer any repercussions. Nor can he, police or the State guarantee the safety of any witness, and he should be open about that. It is basically a death sentence. One of the biggest crimes being committed by the State is against State witnesses,’’ she told IOL on Monday.
Still living in witness protection more than three years after starting to testify against killer gangsters, thanks only to the assistance of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, Pascoe’s grandchildren dare not even take public transport. Her grandson even jumped through a closed window in an anxiety attack this year, still haunted by the trauma of their house being riddled with bullets by gangsters the evening before she first testified.
McKenzie expressed fears of a gang war being reignited with the Hard Livings after alleged Dixie Boys leader Ryan Swartz, 38, was shot dead at 11am on Saturday.
’’It is extremely critical that those who witnessed this murder will provide the necessary information and that the investigating officers and SAPS not just handle the matter discreetly but ensure that the perpetrators are not released to maintain peace in the area,’’ Bonteheuwel councillor McKenzie posted on social media after the incident.
’’The threat of retaliation shooting is extremely high at this point in time and residents are requested to be extremely vigilant and cautious. Our confidential tip-off line remains open alternatively anyone with information can contact 021480 7700.’’
Western Cape police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa also asked that ’’members of the community with information about planned criminal acts are advised to share it with police“.
Once you testify, however, there is nothing ’’confidential’’. Pascoe said it would serve no purpose for anyone to testify. ’’Apart from becoming yet another witness to be killed or living in fear, the gang war will continue regardless of what happens. The gangs are thriving due to the poverty that reigns on the Cape Flats, with residents deserted by the government.’’
In July 2016, Pascoe was among many Manenberg residents who watched helplessly as Angelo Davids, 26, an alleged member of the Hard Livings gang, who died in hospital hours later, was brutally assaulted a few metres from Pascoe’s house. When none of the other witnesses came forward, Pascoe, against the advice of her ex-husband, decided to become a State witness.
On the night of March 6, 2019, unknown gunmen opened fire on her home. Earlier that day – the day before she was to testify in court – 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. Even her mother was too afraid to say she is Pascoe’s mother in public.
Just before judgment was to be passed in October 2019, gangsters threatened to kill the Manenberg community activist. Pascoe realises her life will always be under threat. She has had to be moved to six different safe locations since she started testifying, with her son, two daughters, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren in tow.
The Manenberg activist had hoped for some form of respite after the men she testified against – Clever Kidz gang leader Moegamat Faeez Hendricks and Naeem Benjamin of the Dixie Boys – received lengthy prison sentences. However, her life after turning State witness is not too dissimilar from being imprisoned. She is jobless, living with limited freedom in a safe house, has no transport and she and her family are too scared to ever return to Manenberg.
Asked whether, with the benefit of hindsight, she would have taken a different course of action, Pascoe said: ’’My only regret is that my children are paying the price for my work and my stance that I have taken and that is killing me.
“What the kids are saying, and I understand my children’s pain, their anger, their fear, is that you have offered your life up for the human race and the human race doesn’t give a sh*t what is happening to us.
“They don’t know when we are out of food, they don’t know how we long to be amongst family and friends.
“They have been ripped from their family and friends and they deserve to be settled. And I guess it’s fair for them to lash out at me at times and I guess I just have to endure.
'’It’s never over when it comes to gangsters. The code of gangsters is that once somebody has hurt them, they won’t stop until they got what they want.
"They will keep trying even if they have to pay somebody to do the job for them, which happened with the shooting at my house. I am afraid for the people who support me and go the extra mile to keep me and my family safe.
"I am suffering for standing up for justice in court and just being human. I have had time to reflect and as an activist fighting crime, I realise I have always been out there helping other people, but when it comes to my own family, it can’t be that I am not able to help them.’’
What Pascoe could never do – “because I wasn’t brought up that way” – was what a former State witness in the Davids trial did.
“Even though she herself has lost a loved one, she sold her soul for a R10 000 bribe to the gangs. It pained me. It’s not what I want to give my children. I want to teach my children that when they see something wrong, speak up at any cost. And sometimes it will cost your life.
“You know what killed me is when all those people step in the court to support the gang members, I couldn’t handle it. We should be filling the courts in support against the perpetrators.
“Psychologically, people are not at that level where they say, ‘let’s do something for the greater good’. We say we are God-fearing but when are we going to satisfy God first before anything else?
“One striking thing a friend told me, and it kind of hurt to an extent, was that she said ‘I don’t want to become a Roegshanda’, and it kind of it hit me in the face. I’ve always been there for other people and neglected my own in the process.
“I constantly apologise when I see the pain my son is in. He is totally traumatised. The guy emptied the 16-shooter at him while the children were screaming. So he still struggles to sleep.”
On Freedom Day this year, Pascoe said there was no freedom for children and women. ’’We haven’t achieved freedom for any child, any woman in this country and, holistically, for humanity.
’’Some people perceive that they are free because they have a bit more, and have money. I see us all as having no freedom because as long as we are locked up behind high fences and security gates and we can’t take a walk in the park without being worried about being mugged or raped, we cannot claim that we are free.’’
Regardless of her life being under threat, Pascoe remains chairperson of the Manenberg Safety Forum and is involved in numerous projects on the Cape Flats, among others, the Cape Flats Women’s Alumni, which assists women affected by gender-based violence and mentors female activists making a difference in their communities.