In a desperate bid to bring peace to their neighbourhood, Ottery community leaders raised a white flag on the Bruce Road field which separates the turf of two rival gangs, to protest the violence which has plagued the area in recent times.
The initiative continued on Friday March 4, when the community leaders visited people at the courts, spreading a message of peace.
Former ward councillor Melanie Arendse, who was one of the leaders who initiated the march, said the aim was to stop the gang war and killing of young people. The white flag, she said, was a symbol of peace.
It was planted in the middle of the Bruce Road field where the Mongrels and Yuru Cats often clashed.
“The canal separated the two gangs’ communities but we’ve changed the names of the flats – Ottery A and Ottery B, to one community – to bring unity. The people who came to the march are from either side of the Ottery flats because we believe we are one community.”
Ms Arendse said the initiative continued on Friday when they went to the flats to spread the word of peace in the community.
Pastor Justin Dreyer of Victory Outreach Church in Wynberg, said they had been campaigning two weeks before the march and to date five men and one woman had turned their back on gangsterism and drugs through their intervention, and were now getting help at their drug rehabilitation centre.
“Our intention is to get drug addicts off the streets into our free drug rehabilitation facility or halfway house,” Mr Dreyer said. “We see them through the rehab programme and afterwards assist them to become productive and teach them how to take care of their families again.”
Brandon Eckardt, of Life Changers, who also helped to arrange the march is a motivational speaker and leadership coach in Ottery. He said they had expected more people but there had been a shooting before they met, which may have scared people off.
“There were about 60 people at the march but we decided to continue because if we can’t find something worth living for, find something worth dying for, and if that brings peace in the community, then it is worth it.”
Mr Eckardt’s organisation offers after-school programmes for pupils where the children are also given a meal.
“We also offer trauma counselling, gang mediations as well as court assistance programmes.”
They also partner with rehabilitation centres such as Victory Outreach Church in Wynberg.
Meanwhile, Grassy Park police are putting a plan of action in motion to put a stop to the killings. This, said station commander of Grassy Park police, Colonel Dawood Laing, included “an integrated approach with the Anti-Gang Unit, Metro police, Operation Combat and our own members to curb these gang violence.
“We have started a process where we are focusing on the gang leaders in an attempt to break down their income and get the Asset Forfeiture Unit involved to confiscate all property and funds earned through a criminal manner.”
There have been at least seven murders in Ottery and Lotus River in the past two weeks, including, said Colonel Laing, that of a 36-year-old man on the corner of De Wet Road and Anderson Road, on Monday February 28.
“No suspect was arrested. The police are following up leads and as soon as suspects have been identified linked with statements we will arrest the suspects,” he said.
Colonel Laing said the victim was a Mongrel gang member. “And we do have conflict between the Mongrels and Yuru Cats in the area so this motive cannot be excluded,” he noted.
He added that shootings had been taking place sporadically in the area since the beginning of the year.
“The current violence is mainly between the Young Gifted Six Bobs against the Junky Funky Kids, Mongrels and Dog Pound Gang which is affiliated to the Mongrels. We also had revenge attacks where the Flakka gang of the Steenberg area attacked and killed gang members as retaliation.
“We urge the community to come forward with information to make this area a safe place for all our people of Grassy Park.
“All victims were affiliated to gangs or were drug abusers who bought their drugs from a specific grouping.”
Melvin Jonkers, chairperson of the community police forum, said to tackle the scourge of violence in the communities “we need a multi disciplinary intervention team”.
“The police are doing their best to arrest the perpetrators with the assistance of the neighbourhood watches but the justice system needs to be in place as well,” he said.
“It is important that the community must be informed of how many convictions are there, how many are sent to Pollsmoor Prison and how many are released out on bail.”
Mr Jonkers said they also needed to address social ills in the community, school drop-out rates and unemployment.
“We have plans to meet with different departments such as Social Development as well as the Western Cape Education Department. The children are victims of these crimes as they are not even able to walk safely from school. Thank goodness for the Walking Bus adults who escort the children to and from school.”
Mr Jonkers called on all religious organisations to come on board. “The white flag (at the Ottery prayer march) was raised as a symbol of peace. “We can’t have our communities live in fear.”
Contact pastor Dreyer on 081 374 1434 or Mr Eckardt on 065 946 8166 for more information.