DA vs ANC vs gangs in Manenberg

Severe challenges for one of Cape Town’s most closely contested wards

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Photo of child in Manenberg
Children in Manenberg are often cooped up indoors or confined to their yard as gang war flares up. Reports of children killed or wounded by crossfire are common. Photo: Steve Kretzmann (photo used with permission of child’s guardian)

Manenberg is not free. It is governed by gangs - The Hard Livings, The Americans, The Clever Boys, The Dixies, as well as The Jokers.

Nyanga, too, has its gangs, but they are less organised, less armed, their territory is more fluid and the battles are mostly confined to their teenage members.

In Manenberg (population 53,000 in 2011) the gangs loom over the entire community. Gangs, and the drugs and violence that accompanies them, turn up sooner rather than later in any conversation, whether with a child, mother or grandparent.

There are hundreds of teenagers, many of them with promising grades, who have had to drop out of high school, or at the very least skip months of school, because their school is in a territory controlled by a gang different from the one that controls the street they live in.

For them, going to school – a right guaranteed in our Constitution - can be a life-threatening activity.

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people too traumatised by gang violence they’ve either witnessed or endured, to even walk to the closest shop to buy bread.

There are scores of parents who live with trauma and lifelong loss of their children, shot or knifed to death in gang warfare. Many of these children were not gangsters themselves; they were killed because they refused to join a gang or were caught in crossfire.

Manenberg is of course not the only area in Cape Town ruled by gangs. Lavender Hill, Bonteheuwel and Hanover Park are other areas where gang-related murders are a regular feature of life.

It’s not just a Cape Flats problem either: the violence wrought by gangs affects the entire city. As Roegshanda Pascoe, chair of the Manenberg Safety Forum and a respected community activist in Manenberg, puts it: “A housebreaking in Claremont, a car hijacking somewhere, it comes back to the gangs.”

Ward 45 includes most of Manenberg and part of Gugulethu. Even the most cursory glance at the disparities between Ward 45 and Ward 58, a mere nine kilometres away which contains sections of Claremont and Rondebosch, reveals an unsustainable inequality.

Visually, Ward 58 contains upmarket shopping malls such as Cavendish Square, clean streets, free-standing homes, semi-detached cottages and blocks of well-maintained flats. It has well-kept parks and sports fields and contains elite private schools such as Herschel and Bishops, as well as top-rated government schools such as Westerford.

Ward 45, which covers much of Manenberg and a small portion of Gugulethu, consists of council flats, backyard shacks and what houses there are, are mostly of the cramped breeze-block variety. The streets are potholed and strewn with filth, the air often choked with foul black smoke caused by people burning the plastic off copper wires so they can sell the metal to scrap yards.

What facilities exist, such as the library, are caged in metal and have gang-related graffiti tags on the walls. Secondary schools such as Manenberg, Silverstream and Phoenix, struggle to provide an education among daily threats of violence and intimidation. In 2015, Silverstream’s matric pass rate was just 43%, Phoenix being the highest of the Manenberg schools with 85%. By contrast, the lowest performing school in ward 58 during 2015 was Livingstone High with a pass rate of over 99%.

Like most public facilities in Manenberg, the exterior of the library is more suitable to a prison than an amenity for residents to enjoy. Photo: Steve Kretzmann

Statistics in the 2011 Census bear these observations out. The interactive site Wazimap, created using data from the census, the 2011 municipal elections and the 2014 national and provincial elections, reveals that the average household income earned by the 34.5% of residents of Manenberg who are employed, is R2,450 per month. 

By contrast, in ward 58, the 65% of inhabitants who are employed provide an average household income of R19,225 per month.

The R2,450 per household per month in Manenberg/Gugulethu is about half the average earned in the Western Cape, whereas the R19,225 per household per month in Claremont/Rondebosch is double the Western Cape average.

The number of households which owned computers at the time of the last census is also an indication of access to resources. In ward 45 only 16% had access to a computer, whereas in ward 58 the figure was 84%.

Yet both these wards voted in the DA in the 2011 municipal elections, though by a slim margin in ward 45 (which includes part of Gugulethu).

A resident uses an open space to burn the plastic off a bundle of copper wire which he will sell to a scrap dealer. The open area is marked by the remnants of many such fires and strewn with garbage. As with about half of Manenberg’s residents of working age, this man is unemployed and admits to occasionally stealing in order to feed himself but has a low opinion of government. “We steal R50 and we’re criminals, they steal billions and they’re just called corrupt,” he said. Photo: Steve Kretzmann

Countering gang violence

Crime statistics show that 63 murders took place in the Manenberg precinct in 2015 – the highest ever over the 11-year reporting period, up from 41 murders in 2014. Additionally, 161 attempted murders were reported and 282 cases of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

In July last year, the City deployed a Stabilisation Unit in Manenberg made up of auxiliary law enforcement officers who have the same powers of law enforcement as police officers. The unit, which varies between 30 and 90 officers at a time, conducts raids on drug dens and gang hideouts, and stop-and-search operations in order to find and confiscate drugs and firearms.

According to City Mayco Member for Safety and Security JP Smith, the Stabilisation Unit is deployed “from time to time”, although ward councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli claims they are now a 24-hour presence after gang violence resulted in eight deaths over one weekend in April. The Stabilisation Unit had pulled out in the erroneous belief that the situation had stabilised.

Roegshanda Pascoe says Manenberg remains “full of guns”.

“I’ve sat in a gang house where there was a pile of guns this high,” she says, indicating a pile that would fill up a large sofa. “It’s a joke when police find two guns. I’ve seen young children walking around with (pump action) shotguns, machine guns. They’re nine, ten, 11. They’re not afraid to kill.”

Members of the Hard Livings leave the gang’s initials on a fence surrounding newly renovated council flats controlled by the Dixies. Photo: Steve Kretzmann

Project never implemented

Operation Ceasefire, which is a violence prevention project initiated in Chicago in the United States, was introduced to Cape Town in 2011 and then implemented in Hanover Park. The project works with community-based organisations to identify and assist trained outreach workers and “violence interrupters” who work with the gang leaders and members to discuss and promote alternatives to violence.

Smith says the implementation of Operation Ceasefire in Hanover Park has reduced the murder and attempted murder rate by 34%.

However, despite promises dating back to 2013 of the imminent expansion of Operation Ceasefire into Manenberg, it has yet to happen.

On 3 August 2015, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Cape Town Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille said in a joint statement that R1.5 million had been set aside from the 2015/2016 operational budget “for the Ceasefire programme to start in Manenberg”. The 2015/2016 budget ends on 30 June, yet Smith states Operation Ceasefire has yet to be implemented in Manenberg.

Parks and amenities

In an interview with ward councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli, he mentioned a number of initiatives to upgrade ward 45 during his tenure since 2012.

Mamkeli mentioned a R15 million spend on upgrading the Seine Road Park and the Greens Sports Fields, and R10 million spent on upgrading the Manenberg swimming pool.

Additionally, he mentioned:

  • R200,000 for books and audio listening booths in the Manenberg library
  • R200,000 for books and upgrades to the Gugulethu library
  • A further R300,000 for Seine Road park
  • R168,000 for the Vulindlela swimming pool
  • R300,000 for upgrading of a park next to the Gugulethu library
  • R200,000 for upgrading Entombeni Park in Gugulethu
  • R800,000 for sewer upgrades along Gugulethu NY14
  • R31 million to upgrade old concrete roads in his ward.

Questions sent to the City and via Mamkeli’s assistant confirmed that R15 million has been made available through the Integrated City Development Grant to the City Parks Directorate “for work to be undertaken in the Manenberg area”. Designs for the development are under discussion.

The Urban Settlements Development Grant made R31 million available for upgrading roads in wards 40 and 45. The project began in February last year and is to be completed by September this year. The sewer upgrades in NY14 cost just under R850,000 and were accounted for in the 2012/2013 capital expenditure budget, having been completed in June 2013.

Other than a ward budget allocation of R200,000 in the coming 2016/2017 financial year for the Manenberg library, the other expenditure and upgrading claims were not substantiated by GroundUp.

Pascoe, who has lived her entire life in Manenberg and who Mamkeli states “is in the forefront” of social and community work in the area, does not deny the upgrades and expenditure, but says this does little good for the community as a whole, as gang control means only those people who live in the immediate area where the upgrades take place are able to access the facilities.

The swimming pool, for instance, is a no-go area for her and her neighbours’ children, as it is in Hard Livings’ territory whereas their block is controlled by the Dixies.

A further upgrade is Silverstream Park, a narrow stretch of open area running for about a kilometre along a canal beside Silverstream Road. The project is one of the World Design Capital 2014 projects and is meant to create a “space for active and creative play, walking, relaxing and socialising”. It is meant to be a “safe extension of the [residents’] homes and streets”. Costing R500,000 out of the 2015/16 budget, it is a welcome green stretch dotted with newly planted trees and play equipment, but is scarred by mounds of illegally dumped builders’ rubble and garbage.

Playgrounds become hangouts for drug dealers and gangsters keeping an eye out for trespassers rather than carefree children. Parks become dumping grounds or have to be surrounded by heavy-duty fencing. From the outside, libraries, schools and clinics are so caged against vandalism and theft that they resemble prisons. All this combines to create the impression that expenditure without creating a secure social environment, is a rapidly diminishing return.

Housing upgrades

The City has been engaged in the Community Residential Units (CRU) Refurbishment Programme since 2008, which involves reviewing and upgrading the City’s 7,700 rental units. Funded by the national government, this involves fixing up 624 units – 13 flat blocks – in Manenberg, with the first batch of Manenberg flats being completed in May 2014.

The new paintwork, a huge improvement on the flaking beige blocks that marked the area, can be seen throughout the ward. However, residents were dismissive of the upgrades, saying they did not address the structural problems of the apartheid era residences.

“If you close the door too hard, the whole frame shakes,” said one resident. “There are cracks in the walls; the tiles are lifted; you worry the place is going to fall down.”

Pascoe was also critical, claiming badly-needed structural repairs had not been done and contractors had used substandard materials.

She claims promises were made that 90% of the painting and refurbishment jobs would go to local people, but it seemed the same few people were continually chosen from the City’s jobs database.

“How can the computer throw out the same names every time? It’s a vrot system,”she said, when there was an unemployed person living in almost every house that had experience as a painter, tiler, cabinet maker, carpenter or brick layer, but their skills were not utilised.

She said the Manenberg Safety Forum was pushing to change the jobs database system and get the City to utilise the skills in the community, an initiative councillor Mamkeli supported.

Housing projects in the ward consist of the Erf 8448 project and the Tambo Village project.

Erf 8448 was first initiated in 2011 when an application for rezoning was made. In his 2014 budget speech, Western Cape housing MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela promised Erf 8448 would provide 500 housing opportunities for backyarders, to be delivered by July 2014. Two years later, it is still not completed.

At a subcouncil meeting in November 2014, it was announced that subsidies of R17,000 had been approved for residents of Tambo Village falling within ward 45, whose houses were never built. They were receiving assistance from the Human Settlements Department through the intervention of a subcouncillor. This month, Mamkeli said the infrastructure for the Tambo Village infill houses was in place and “we are waiting to start work on the top structure”.

The councillor

The DA’s Siyabulela Mamkeli was elected ward councillor in an April 2012 by-election following the death of former ward councillor Faiza Adams, receiving 59% of the vote against the ANC candidate’s 36%. He is the first black councillor in a ward that is majority coloured.

Before 2006, Mamkeli was with the Independent Democrats (ID) — the party then headed by Patricia de Lille before it merged with the DA. He was a volunteer in politics for 18 years until being elected councillor. Becoming councillor was a “major victory” for him, and in 2014 he was appointed mayco member for housing before being transferred to the health directorate last year. He is a church-going Christian and unapologetically ambitious, with his eyes on becoming South Africa’s president.

Ward 45 councillor Siyabulela Mamkeli of the DA who achieved a 59% majority vote in the 2012 by-election. He is also mayco member for health. Photo: Steve Kretzmann

In an interview with GroundUp, he was knowledgeable about his ward and enthusiastic about helping to improve the lives of those who live in it, and dissolving the apartheid-erected boundaries between the black community in Gugulethu and the coloured community in Manenberg.

Pascoe, who is critical of the way the City implements initiatives, saying there is not enough proper engagement with residents in order to secure their “ownership” of improvements in their communities, nevertheless praised Mamkeli for his engagement and commitment to his electorate, saying he was the only councillor who was involved in what was happening in Manenberg, even though he did not live there, but had his home in Kuils River.

Mamkeli will not be standing for re-election as ward councillor in ward 45, but will be the DA candidate for neighbouring ward 42, where he has assisted though it is not his constituency. He believes he can wrest it from the ANC in August.

“Currently the people are feeling the pinch because of the absence of their councillor in ward 42,” he said.

Bonita Jacobs will be the DA candidate in ward 45. Jacobs is the Proportional Representative for subcouncil 17 and was DA candidate in the 2006 municipal elections but lost to the ANC.

Election history

The ANC took ward 45 in the 2006 local government elections with ward councillor Maxencia Msuthu getting 54% of the vote. The DA candidate at the time, Bonita Jacobs, got only 27% and the ID’s Washiela Baker got 15%.

After the merger between the DA and ID the ward split 54% ANC and 41% ID/DA coalition.

In 2011, the DA got 46% of the vote versus the ANC’s 36%.

In the April 2013 by-elections, Mamkeli improved the DA position to 59%. The ANC remained at 36%.

Manenberg and its neighbouring areas on Google Earth.

TOPICS:  Government Local Elections 2016 Policing Violence

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Write a letter in response to this article


Dear Editor

I grew up in Manenberg. Unfortunately my mom, sister and her kids still live there. My mother has been living there for 30 years and those 30 years we have been through hard difficult times. No political party gives a damn about Manenberg the elderly the young, and the ill.

Children, grandmothers and caregivers must dodge bullets to and from school, work and home, church, and mosque. There is nothing good any political party or any government is ever going to do for the people in Manenberg no matter this upgrade.

It breaks my heart. Most of the people in Manenberg are good honest law abiding citizens. Manenberg is a good place with good people. The solution is to rid the place of those who seek to oppress, bully, destroy, hurt, ruin, innocent families with good values. These people that terrorise Manenberg are known to police, politicians and government and yet they roam freely in the streets.

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