Fri Oct 20 12:47:16 CAT 2017

A world of flatliners

2012-12-10 12:38:01.0 | JUSTINE GERARDY |

THE coffin lies open in the crowded living room before its final journey to a graveyard in Cape Town's ganglands.

THE EVIL: Most killings relate to drug turf wars. Picture by Esa Alexander

 Life is short in this tough gangsterland 

It's a path that's rarely trod by visitors to the Mother City, but a well-worn route for those standing around the coffin of the 21-year-old who was gunned down in the shadow of Table Mountain.

"People just die around you all the time," says mourner Miche Moses (22), who witnessed her first killing at the age of 10 or 11.

"Most of the funerals we go to are because people die by gunshot or a knife wound. We hardly ever bury someone who's died of old age or cancer or diabetes or something," she says.

The sandy, windswept Cape Flats is home to scores of rival street gangs who have carved up the gritty, poverty-ridden neighbourhoods into lucrative drug turfs to be defended at all costs.

The bloodshed has reached such levels that calls have been made for the army to be deployed to help an overwhelmed police force. On average, a life is lost to gang violence every five days.

"I live my life knowing I could be killed," says Franklin Blaauw (27), who has been a gang member for three years in hard-hit Bonteheuwel.

"You do or die - you do something about it or you get dead (sic) doing nothing."

Such is the allure of gangs that when local high school kids were asked which of them were members, more than half stood up, says Pastor Stanley Martin.

"There's lots of peer pressure," he says. "They're targeted to push drugs and get money from the drug lords."

Much of the cash is spent on brand name clothes.

"They get hooked. They can't get out and they are scared for their lives. They don't let go of you easily if you're a gangster because you know too much.

"People are very fed up," says Martin, who oversaw the burial of the slain 21- year-old, whose 11-month-old baby son slept on oblivious at his grave side.

"But everyone is talking under cover. Most of the people are scared to speak out because they might be targeted."

Yet a peace process in the Lavender Hill neighbourhood has brokered a truce of nearly six months between the powerful gang bosses, offering hope that mindsets can and will change.

The gang leaders now meet weekly and have replaced violence with communication, pushing aside the knowledge that someone in the room might have shot a friend.

"The peace process wasn't easy," says Igzaan "The Mediator" Abrahams (36), who got into a prison gang while serving an 18-year sentence.

"It opened a new chapter for us. There was nothing in the past for us like that ... sitting together."

It's not the first truce. But the organisers are hopeful.

"Everything isn't going to change overnight. We're not naive," says pastor Stanford Hill. "But for me the important thing is that we're working with their minds, they're starting to think differently."

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