On the 30th of June this year the front page of South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper carried the title ‘World’s most dangerous city’, above a photograph of Cape Town, prettily lit up at night. It was not an exaggeration. In the first four months of 2019, Cape Town had 1280 suspected murders, a rate that if maintained, would make it more dangerous than cities in Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico.
The bulk of these murders are taking place in the Cape Flats. An area of around 25kms, this low-lying flat area is situated to the southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. It is described by some as the apartheid dumping ground, an area that was home to people designated as non-white from the 1950s onwards.
Anine Kriegler, a criminologist at the University of Cape Town says that the city’s murder rate has risen 60% in eight years, to 2017/8. This worrying rise, as well as pressure from local Cape Flats communities, saw President Ramaphosa take the drastic step of sending the military into the Cape Flats this July, to try and quell the violence.
A lot of research has gone into the criminal activities of gangs in the Cape Flats, to understand the current dire situation and find long term solutions. Mark Shaw, director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GI TOC), and Simone Haysom, a senior analyst at GI TOC, have written at length about the problems. It makes for interesting reading.
According to Shaw and Haysom, the Cape Flats area has become a hot-bed of illicit flow of drugs and guns that are particularly affected by the country’s recent history. In simplistic terms, Shaw and Haysom identify four key motivators for the violence, ranging from a strong gang culture that is attractive to alienated youth; drug turfs and the profits they generate; the high level of guns available to the gangs and the power of territorial control. These gang and crime problems are not unique to the Cape Flats, but a perfect storm has developed in the area, because of the large number of guns and big drug market. The country’s lack of law-enforcement of high-level criminals - the drug and gun king-pins – has plummeted over recent years, as corruption and politics have got in the way of proper policing. This has added to the rise of violence in the area.
When Ramaphosa sent the military into the area earlier this year, innocent residents rejoiced at the support and calm it initially brought to the area. However, many critics argue that it is just a ‘band-aid’ to the problem. Gang members speaking to the Daily Voice newspaper have boasted about not fearing the army and how they will carry on with their operations as normal. One gangster admitted that police corruption plays “a major role in the success of their business”.
So what are the solutions to this complex problem of escalating violence? The trauma advocacy group of the University of Cape Town has offered up a range of potential short-term solutions, including search-and-seizure of firearms, closure of known ‘drug houses’ and visible police patrols. However, many feel that too little is being done too late. Don Pinnock, author of a book called ‘Gang Town’, feels that the mass evictions of Coloured People into the Cape Flats area during the apartheid era set the scene for a social disaster waiting to happen. Family and friend networks were destroyed at the time and with this destruction came the breakdown of communities.
It is easy to be negative about the long-term hope for the Cape Flats area but many still believe that a different approach to the problem, that helps rebuild the damaged communities and brings hope and work to the youth, will start the process of healing this broken region.
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