Gang war leads to tragic end for toddler

TJ Nel was shot and killed on Sunday July 8.

Cafda residents are fearing for their lives following several shootings in the past month with the latest attack leaving a toddler dead.

Tashwill Junior (TJ) Nel, who was just 1 year and nine months old, was shot in a drive-by shooting while sitting on his uncle’s lap in a parked car in Komlossy Street, just after 8pm on Sunday July 8.

TJ and his family, including five other children, were about to leave when a white car pulled up alongside them and about 10 shots were fired.

TJ’s aunt Valencia Jacobs, who was in the car, said they were on their way to her grandmother’s house in Peter Charles Street when a car pulled up and the occupants fired several shots.

“We were just about to pull off and TJ was on the driver’s lap, where he usually sits because he likes to play with the steering wheel. Everything happened so quickly. The shots rang out and all of us jumped out of the car and tried to get the children out safely,” she said.

TJ was struck in the head and when his mother ran out of the house to get her children she was shot in the arm. She was too traumatised to speak to the Southern Mail the day after the shooting.

Ms Jacobs said: “When the shooting stopped we didn’t know TJ was shot. All the children were shouting but he was quiet and that’s when we turned to him and saw all the blood.”

TJ was the youngest and only boy of three siblings.

Ms Jacobs said TJ was a fun, active, talkative toddler who brought joy to the family.

“We are still in shock and we don’t understand why someone would shoot at a car full of children. How do the people who did this sleep at night? I have no words. What human does that to a baby and shoots at a car full of children?”
TJ died at Retreat Community Health Centre.

In a tragic twist, the uncle TJ was named after, Tashwill, was also shot and killed in June four years ago.

Ms Jacobs said the loss of little TJ is a double blow to the family.

“We felt like we had a part of Tashwill Junior here with us through TJ but now he has been taken from us too,” she said.

On Wednesday July 4, a drive-by shooting claimed another life and two people were injured.

Neville De Koker was shot multiple times and died in hospital. He was at a shop in 12th Avenue when a car drove by and the occupants started shooting. A woman was shot in the leg and in another incident, on the same evening, a man was shot in the legs.

Mr De Koker was an Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) worker at Princess Vlei and a father of three children.

His father David de Koker said his son did not deserve to die the way he did.

“My son was a hard-working man who lived for his family, soccer and the odd game of pool. He was not a gangster and had nothing to do with gangsterism but he was shot like he was one,” said Mr De Koker.

On night of the shooting, Mr De Koker was in bed and heard several shots go off. The neighbours informed him his son had been shot and he rushed to his side. Neville was still conscious for about 30 minutes before the ambulance attended to him. He, however, died later at hospital due to internal bleeding after a bullet entered his stomach and existed back.

The loss of his son has left Mr De Koker devastated.

“I have lost my mother, I’ve lost my wife but this immense pain I feel is unlike any other I’ve ever felt. To lose a child in such a way is heartbreaking. If he was a gangster I would have accepted his fate but he was killed for no reason,” he said.

The Princess Vlei Forum posted on Facebook that the loss was a shock to all who knew Neville: “The Princess Vlei Forum management committee is shocked and saddened by the loss of this wonderful young man, who had so much to offer his loved ones and his community. We condemn the senseless killing and criminal activity in our communities, which causes such heartbreak and devastation.”

Just opposite Mr De Koker’s house in Komlossy Street, there’s a cross where another young man, Darryl de Villiers was shot on Monday June 19.

Mr De Koker wants justice for his son’s death: “I have lived in Cafda for more than 30 years and this is the worst the gangsterism has been but the sad part is that innocent people are being killed and shot at. These gangsters are not shooting other gangsters, they are shooting people that have nothing to do with gangsterism. The people responsible for my son’s death must be held accountable,” he said.

Community worker Sheila Jacobs said the community of Cafda is traumatised by all the shootings in the past few weeks.

“We are living in fear because at this point anyone can get shot. The gangsters don’t shoot the targets or the people they’re meant to shoot, they shoot the women, children and innocent men. We are being robbed of our freedom because our children can’t walk in the streets, we have to duck and dive when we hear gunshots.

“This is not a way to live, in a constant state of fear and nothing is being done because the shooters are never caught and there’s not enough police presence in the area,” said Ms Jacobs.

Steenberg station commander Colonel Jan Alexander said the recent shootings in Cafda could be retaliation shootings or intra-fighting within gangs, or are part of the fight for drug turf.

He said Steenberg police have been operating with four approaches to deal with the gang violence in the area.

“The situation is volatile and we have approached it with crime intelligence, investigating to gather information about the shootings, an operational approach which depends on man power and a community approach where we work with the community to fight gangsterism by them giving us information about the activities in the area. If we combine these efforts we can make an impact on the gang violence,” said Colonel Alexander.

He said the cases are still being investigated and encouraged residents to come forward with information about the shootings.

“The information will be treated as confidential and we will use this information to combat gang violence. We are depending on the community to help us. We will also be meeting with the Community Police Forum (CPF) and community to address the recent spate of gang-related shootings,” he said.