SA’s murder hot spots: drugs, gangs and violence

Almost 10% of people murdered in South Africa in the past financial year lived under the watch of just 10 police stations – eight of which are on the outskirts of Cape Town. 

Of the 1 700 people murdered in these 10 policing precincts, 1 351 were killed in areas on the Cape Flats where police officers and analysts are blaming a perfect storm of drugs, gangs and violence. 

Only two stations included in the ignominious top 10 are outside the city – Inanda and Umlazi outside Durban, where 179 and 170 people were murdered, respectively. 

In Kraaifontein – a relative newcomer to the top 10, an area where 29 more people were killed between April last year and March this year than the year before – station commander Brigadier Gerda van Niekerk is doing her best to remain positive. 

She told City Press all the knives confiscated by her 253 officers over the past year could form a pile large enough to cover the floor of her office – which is about the size of a double garage. 

Despite Kraaifontein’s ranking on the murder scale – her station scored joint eighth with Harare and Mitchells Plain – she is proud of her officers.

They serve an area of about 300 000 people who range from middle class residents with average annual salaries of R230 000, according to the 2011 census, to the working class poor with reported combined household incomes of R29 400 a year. 

Despite her best efforts, gangs remain rife. With a 45% employment rate in many of her policing areas, it is seen by many as an attractive career option. 

“We have put most of the gang leaders and shooters behind bars in Pollsmoor Prison. We have arrested so many, many thugs. It’s been hard work,” she said. 

On her office wall are four mosaic crosses, which her daughter made, one for every framed photograph of police officers killed on the job since she took over as station commander five years ago. 

On the far right is a picture of Constable Rozelle Witbooi, killed in a shoot-out with robbers in the poor neighbourhood of Wallacedene on February 13 last year. 

Residents who have jobs in that neighbourhood typically run small shops from their homes or sweep streets; others turn to careers in drugs and crime. 

Caught in the cross hairs of gang violence, many families sleep huddled away from glass windowpanes that shatter when bullets fly. Most murders in the area are committed by perpetrators known to the victims – often friends or family, says Van Niekerk. 

On Friday, Van Niekerk was at the Western Cape High Court, where two men, Mbongiseni Sithelo and Sicelo Kwayimani, appeared for Witbooi’s murder and on 16 other charges, including armed robbery. 

Witbooi (29) was shot and killed when she and her partner were called to a farm near Wallacedene, where the farm owner and workers had been tied up and robbed. 

Also at court was Witbooi’s widow, Constable Marisha Dixon-Witbooi, a police officer at nearby Elsie’s River, in full uniform, blinking back tears. Witbooi is also survived by their young daughter. 

Van Niekerk added: “She was a fine police officer. It really hurts so much when people kill the people who try to serve them.” 

Outside the Kraaifontein police station, City Press spoke to Leah Booysen, a mother of three sons in their twenties. She was on her way home after shopping in nearby Voortrekker Road. 

She shook her fist while discussing the despair in her neighbourhood, saying young people like her sons turned to gangs because there were few career options open to them. 

“I tried my best,” she said. “My babies weren’t born gangsters, you know. Life made them like that.” 

All three of her sons have been to jail over the years. 

In Delft in the south, where 163 people were murdered during the police’s statistical period, a senior police officer, who asked not to be named, said:

“Unemployment is very high and many people here do drugs. 

“When their needs are not met, they resolve conflict through violence. This often happens inside homes. 

“As police, we’re trying to conduct talks at schools to educate children that violence is not right.” 

Community news organisation GroundUp reported last week that community leaders in the Blikkiesdorp informal settlement were desperate for more police officers. 

Blikkiesdorp joint committee chairperson Ettienne Claasen said: “Gang violence erupted [last week] and two people were killed. 

“We believe the sporadic violence is as a result of the multiple social problems that come from living in a dense and unprotected living space. Police must patrol every hour throughout the area.” 

Guy Lamb, director of the Safety and Violence Initiative at the University of Cape Town, said gangsterism, the availability of guns, and alcohol and drug use were the key drivers of murder in Kraaifontein, Mitchells Plain and Delft. 

And in Nyanga and Gugulethu, alcohol was also a major catalyst, he added. 

Local violent crime experts agree that murder in these areas is fuelled by a cycle of poverty, social ills and despair – which cannot be solved by policing alone. 

Lizette Lancaster, project manager of the crime and justice hub at the Institute for Security Studies, said: “Unfortunately, South Africa does not have a comprehensive strategy that guides government departments, civil society and the public in ways to reduce interpersonal violence. 

“This means the police are saddled with the problem. This is an impossible task for one organisation to achieve.”