Helenvale residents demand a safer community

Community members in Shauderville protesting against rape, drugs and gangsterism in 2016. Photo: Joseph Chirume
Helenvale, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Gangsterism and contact crime is reportedly escalating in Port Elizabeth’s Northern Areas, a predominantly coloured community.
Brutal killings and gun related violence are commonplace in a society that is being torn apart by the scourge of drug addiction. Gangsterism is also stalking the Northern Areas.

Shocked by the ever escalating violence and also petrified by the wanton destruction of property and infrastructure during service delivery protests, Nelson the Mandela Bay executive mayor, Athol Trollip, convened a public participation meeting on 9 May in the Chatty Community Hall.
The concerned residents of Helenvale submitted to Trollip a total of 40 grievances whose answers they demanded urgently.

Topping the list was gangsterism and unemployment which residents described as the evil that should be prioritised.

Ronald Sage’s 16 year-old son is a member of a local gang that specialises in terrorising spaza shops. They also have a formidable stake in the local drug market.

The 46 year old father explained “ My son dropped out of school in Grade 9. He was very bright and you could see that had he not messed up, he was going to have a fruitful future. It only started in 2015 when he was forced to join a gang at his school.”

“There was a fight at his school that involved him with another learner. He was helped out of that fight and the only way to repay his saviours was by joining their gang. He eventually became indoctrinated and started bullying and robbing other learners”

Maria Booi also of Helenvale, painfully shared the pain and anguish of watching helplessly in 2011 as her two sons were brutally murdered as a result of rival gang fights.

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She said “It is a curse living here. You can never know who’s next. Gangsterism is being fuelled by drugs ultimately turning this community into a war zone. Hardly a day passes by without hearing of a gang related murder. People are even afraid to walk into other streets for fear of being attacked.”

“My sons were killed in a space of six months. They had joined a local gangster and were always high on drugs. The problem is that we’ve to fight this problem starting from our homes. We can blame the police for failing to stem violence but at the end we are also to blame for failing to instill discipline and confidence in our children. We should also work with the police to flush out gangsters from our community. Don’t hide or accommodate them please because you will be promoting their evil acts”

Maria is unemployed. She buys table clothes and socks in Kostern and resells them in Humansdorp. She is left with a 12 year-old daughter who for safety reasons lives in Hankey with her cousins.

“It is safer there than here,” Maria said.

The residents complained about the massive lack of job creation projects. They also allege that some local councillors were hiring friends and party supporters on municipal projects.

Also prominent on the list of grievances was the issue of taxis that are routinely robbed by gangsters, as well as the immediate deployment of the promised Metro police to assist the South African Police in combating crime in the area.

The residents wanted Trollip to declare Helenvale a poverty-affected area. By so doing they would position themselves to receive free municipal services.

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They demanded that the municipality should not cut off electricity to households that owed the municipality money.

Hardly three days passed after the meeting than protest erupted again leading to the closure of several roads and streets. The situation turned ugly on May 11 after 18 year-old Ronaldo Haneke of Helenvale was shot and killed at the scene of a protest.

His death sparked more violent protests as it spread to all corners of the Northern Areas. Residents accused the police of firing the bullet that fatally wounded him while the police counter-accused gangsters whom they said had infiltrated the protesters. The matter has already been taken by the Independent Police Investigative Directory.

Prominent community activist, Romeo Hawkins, said the Municipality and respective government departments should spruce up job creation projects. He is leading a group of divers and fishermen to lobby the government to issue out more fishing permits to the residents of the Northern Areas.

He explained, “Fishing is the mainstay of the coloured community. Many people in our areas are skilled in fishing but the government is not tapping into that. The small scale fishermen have the potential to drastically reduce unemployment by absorbing the unemployed youths from our areas. This is the only way gangsterism and drug abuse can be addressed.”

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About Joseph Chirume 11 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.