A 'losing battle' for gang-ravaged Westbury
In Westbury, a drug turf war has forced its residents on to the streets in bloody protest, but experts believe that defeating gangsterism will be a hard battle to win.
“I have mixed emotions; there are now 300 police officers in Westbury but the problem is that government is not doing enough to address problems of gangsterism,” said Charity Monareng, a UCT Master’s student who studied gangsterism in Lavender Hill, Cape Town, and Westbury in Joburg.
Yesterday, protests turned bloody when a woman was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet fired by police.
Residents were protesting over the fatal shooting of a mother on Thursday, after she was hit by a stray bullet during a gang shootout.
Her 10-year-old daughter was hurt in the shooting.
Community members burnt tyres and marched on the Sophiatown police station.
The fatal shooting was believed to be part of an ongoing war between rival gangs, who were importing Cape Town hitmen to do their killing.
“They use the local guys to point out who they want killed,” said a police officer, who wished to remain anonymous.
At stake was a lucrative drug trade that includes Cat, cheap heroin, crack cocaine and pure cocaine.
The drugs are even attracting high-end users from outside of Westbury.
“This march won’t do much, the problem is that the police are only getting the small guys,” said the officer.
There was a time, said research director Simon Howell of the African Policing civilian oversight forum, when headway was being made against high-ranking gangsters.
Operation Combat was launched in 2010 and went after gangsters using the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. Instead of just drug busts, investigators focused on money laundering and gangster activities.
The problem, said Howell, was that restructuring within the police caused the demise of Operation Combat.
“What you have with Westbury is a little piece of Cape Town in Joburg,” said Howell.
However, this week Police Minister Bheki Cele told protesters in Bonteheuwel there might soon be the establishment of a specialised drug unit.
These units were disbanded in 2003 by then national police commissioner Jackie Selebi. But more needed to be done than simple policing, according to Monareng.
“There are no jobs and education, and gangs are offering what the government isn’t,” she said.
The concern, said Howell, was that frustration by residents could lead to increased vigilantism.
There was one initiative that did help, he said. In Delft, Cape Town, the community began marking drug dealer houses with painted red crosses.
“It was non-violent, and they used the stigma of drugs to stop people from buying them.
“It was the most successful intervention, but was never repeated.”
The Saturday Star