Hope for better life

Aysha Davids at the meeting with the South African Human Rights Commission.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has taken steps to help residents of Lavender Hill and the surrounding areas with the ongoing gang violence.

The SAHRC was established to support constitutional democracy and promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights.

On Tuesday August 21 parents, school governing bodies and organisations met with officials from the SAHRC at Hillwood Primary School in Lavender Hill to discuss a way forward following daily shootings in the area.

Children have been negatively affected by the gang violence and absenteeism at school has increased dramatically.

One parent at the meeting, who did not want to be named, said her children are only attending school two or three times a week.

“We have to walk through the gang war areas and dodge bullets to get our children to school. So what other option do we have but to keep our children at home rather than get them killed by a stray bullet.

“This has a negative impact on our children because they lose valuable time at school. We need an intervention as soon as possible because our children are suffering. They are falling behind with their school work and are traumatised by the shootings,” said the mother of three.

Hillwood principal Gavin Alkana said the school approached the SAHRC because pupils’ basic right to education were being violated.

“According to our constitution pupils should feel safe and have the rights to education. This process with the SAHRC is a starting point to voice that we do not feel safe in Lavender Hill. We want to be heard and the pupils and community have a constitutional right to be kept safe,” said Mr Alkana.

Bahia Sterris, legal consultant for the SAHRC, said the commission works with other institutions, such as police, parents, residents and government departments to protect people’s rights.

“We met with the community and other organisations from the area to hear from them what the issues in the community are. We then investigate it and try to engage with the relevant stakeholders to look at a way forward,” said Ms Sterris.

Lloyd Lotz, the Western Cape SAHRC provincial manager, explained that the commission decided to intervene as children’s rights and the right to basic education are being violated by the gang violence. The SAHRC will now follow a legal process to address these issues.

He said the commission understands that the community feel frustrated because they feel their pleas for safety are not being heard.

“Rights are written down in the constitution but the question is, what does that piece of paper mean to a child in Lavender Hill who has to dodge bullets every day, to the parents who are losing their children? We are also frustrated so we are now using the power we have as an institution to call on those in power to account where there is a violation such as what Lavender Hill is currently facing,” said Mr Lotz.

The commission will be documenting all complaints from residents, parents, teachers, organiations and then formulate one combined complaint.

“If we combine the complaints it will give it more gravity.

“We will investigate these complaints and take that information to the human right commissioner to liaise with government to seek intervention at a higher level. We can’t promise that the solution will come tomorrow but with the community’s help we can come up with a solution,” said Mr Lotz.

Community worker Aysha Davids said it is a good initiative. “We as a community are ready to tackle this issue and we will try and start petitions as well to make our case stronger.

“There are various issues including the fact that hit men are released on bail, walking free the day after they are arrested. The police and justice department and all other role-players have to come onboard and deal with all the issues connected to the gangsterism and that is the only way we can stop the gangsters,” she said.