After six people were killed in three hours within an one kilometre radius in Alexandra township last week, residents of the township are reeling in shock. Crime is rife in the area but never in history has such a spate of killings been committed in such a short period of time. The killings prompted a visit by Police Minister Bheki Cele to signal an anti-crime operation underway, while comforting families of the deceased and pledging the swift arrest of the perpetrators. In one of the meetings with stakeholders, he even jokingly said he watches a lot of Gomora, a popular drama series which is set in Alexandra, and without a doubt he now believes the violence he sees in that drama is a true reflection of what happens in the township.
Among those ruthlessly killed on that fateful night was Joshua Mbatha, a young DJ with a promising radio career at Alex FM. He was walking home from work together with two colleagues when they were accosted at 7th avenue, Selborne Street, a usually lit and busy street but dark on that day due to loadshedding. Criminal took the opportunity and pounced, demanding their money, shoes and cellphones before shooting at them. Mbatha’s colleagues managed to escape while he tragically succumbed to his gunshot wounds at the local clinic.
The criminals went on to shoot and kill more innocent victims at various places in the township. These killings followed just a few days after the massacre of 16 people in a Soweto tavern. Although the police has since denied any coordination of these incidents, community members remain suspicious and could not be deterred from forming their own opinions and conspiracy theories pointing to foreign nationals as culprits.
“Let me tell you, though we don’t ask criminals their identities or nationalities, these murders I can tell you now were committed by the local boys, aged between 23 and 33, born and bred here,” Cele told a large and a furious community gathered outside the police station demanding answers. He applauded the community for its cooperation in the successful apprehension of the suspects, who all appeared in the Alexandra magistrate’s court on Monday on charges of murder, attempted murder, theft and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
Cele went on to address the same community on Sunday afternoon and reiterated that foreign nationals occupying South African prisons over five years are a tiny fraction compared to the locally-born majority. He further stated that the Alexandra police station will be reinforced with additional members and resources. He shared his cell number with the community members and encouraged them to report corrupt cops to him.
“We wish the heavy police presence today and momentum will be sustained over a long period of time. We hope this was not just a mere spectacle and a publicity stunt. If not, fighting crime and defeating it will be a long distant dream,” said local government councillor, Adolf Marema.
Cele assured the residents that the meeting and the operation won’t be the last. They will continue monitoring the troubled community, ravaged not only by crime but grappling at the same time with poverty and unemployment. He promised them that when he returns, he will bring with him other government departments such as human settlements, justice, social development and home affairs to look into community challenges holistically, the ‘problem’ of undocumented foreign nationals especially and the granting of bail that sees criminals back on the street terrorising the community again.
As to why such robbers kill their victims after they have taken their belongings, Cele said one can only speculate: “We may have arrested them, found guns and stolen goods but we will never know what was on their minds that made them behave like animals.” Chairperson of the Alex Community Police Forum, Chris Mabunda said he can’t think of any other description than that of demon possession: “It’s devilish which is made worse by the drugs they are taking. Take whatever you want and at least spare me my life. No one will resist anything if they see a gun.”
These senseless killings have highlighted the alarming numbers of shebeens and of illegal firearms in circulation. Gauteng Premier David Makhura said there has to be tighter laws around gun possession and ownership and that taverns must be properly regulated.