[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Wentworth gangs, municipal deregulation
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Sep 3 05:31:02 BST 2008
Wentworth becomes a war zone again
Pollution, gangsterism and violence are on the increase, writes Oliver Meth
September 03, 2008 Edition 1
THE shots rang out soon after 1pm on Saturday last week, and many of us
ran out of the barracks - blocks of flats next to the Engen refinery -
to find yet another teenage corpse: Zukz MacDonald.
He joined Tersia Heslop, Roman van Schalkwyk and Sebastian Roskruge as
some of this year's victims of Wentworth violence.
A growing epidemic of drug usage and gangs is causing the death of too
many of our youngsters. Violence is raging out of control. Nightclubs
seem to be the main site, and gangs the main source.
With a population of 27 000 residents and a 40% unemployment rate,
Wentworth is desperate. The area was designated as coloured during
apartheid-era racial planning.
We catch the bulk of pollution emitted in the south Durban industrial
basin. Factories line Wentworth's northern, western and eastern
perimeters. The huge oil refinery, mockingly called the ship that never
sails, is a constant threat, with leaking pipes, toxic gas emissions and
Our location and working-class or poor status give Wentworth the
reputation of a difficult community. Environmental pollution, drug
infestation and an epidemic of gangsterism plagued the area during the
1980s-1990s, and we are now suffering a rebirth of all three.
A huge increase in oil refining is expected, thanks to the planned R50
billion pipeline that will carry petrol to Gauteng. But affected
communities object that the path chosen reeks of environmental racism.
As for gangs, the pattern is familiar. "We done the time, they done the
crime," says a rueful Peter Usher, who 25 years ago was a member of the
local Wentworth Trucks gang. He and four others were sentenced
collectively to 79 years for the murder of a crippled member of the
rival Woodstock Vultures gang.
To this day the Trucks passionately proclaim their innocence and seek
redress in the new political dispensation.
Younger gang members seem to carry the legacy of the 1980s and quite
bluntly live for revenge. So the cycle of violence, drug usage and
prostitution has been kickstarted, reminding residents of the early
1980s when gangs were rife and people were afraid to walk the streets at
It is here that I was born and raised by my grandmother in a bleak,
dilapidated council housing unit. "The '80s; it was like a war zone,"
she tells me.
"After five in the afternoon, violence erupted. In the morning it was
quiet, except for mothers who were crying, week in and week out,
standing in front of open graves."
For decades that was the story of Wentworth - a small community under
siege while gangsters openly conducted turf wars in the streets. About
the year 1999 members of the community rose up and changed that.
For the past eight years it seemed as if the peace was holding, but then
the nightclubs scrambled back into town.
A decade ago, the late Catholic priest Father Cyril Carey, the prominent
environmental activist Des D'Sa and many others dedicated their services
to the community. They arranged peace negotiations with gang members and
the closure of places which fostered violence. But it now seems that the
peace they worked so hard for is over.
D'Sa himself nearly lost his life in January, in a petrol bomb attack on
his family's own small council flat.
Who should we blame? And who has the power to make a difference here?
The situation in Wentworth got out of hand when nightclubs were allowed
back into the area by city manager Michael Sutcliffe.
Violence broke out seriously at one of the clubs a year ago, when six
murders were traced to the nightclub within a month, according to D'Sa.
Last month there were five murders and a number of other shootings and
According to D'Sa the level of drug abuse was very high, even in primary
"No school is untouched. This is why the gangs have sprung up, to
control turf around these sites," he said.
D'Sa believes that organised crime has migrated from the Point and West
Street region to Wentworth because of changes to liquor licensing
Representing the Wentworth Development Forum, he sent Sutcliffe appeal
after appeal but to no avail.
Last week he read that the city manager would crack down on liquor
licences, but this is yet to happen in Wentworth. Sutcliffe was quoted
in the media as saying: "Regulation of liquor licences should be dealt
The problem, according to D'Sa, was that a clean-up in the city centre
meant that "all the rubbish is transferred to our area".
"The cops cannot handle it, even if they are straight. The senior police
are scared of these gangs," D'Sa said.
Rape and HIV incidence are rising rapidly. Kids are high on drugs and
are more promiscuous. There are unlicensed firearms everywhere.
This leaves civil society to pick up the pieces left by a failed state.
Mothers patrol the area around Umbilo Secondary School to make sure
pupils are not accosted by gangsters. D'Sa and other courageous citizens
One day city officials will be within earshot, and asked to declare why
they let the nightclubs come back, bringing us all the drunkenness,
drugs, violence and murders.
# Oliver Meth is a community scholar at the University of
KwaZulu-Natal's Centre for Civil Society.
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