Residents of Westbury have expressed outrage over the recent upsurge in gang-related violence in the area. The small community, west of Johannesburg, is notorious for drug peddling and gangsterism.
In recent months, it has also seen a spike in drug-related shootings leaving several people dead and many critically injured. In the latest incident on Monday, one person is fighting for his life after being shot multiple times, in what’s believed to be a gang-related hit.
Following months of calm, gang violence has once again flared up. Westbury developed its notorious reputation in the early 90s. Drug kingpins are now feared power houses in the community as they brazenly ply their trade. It’s understood that the war between rival drug gangs, The Fast Guns and the Varados, is now intensifying as the battle for power and turf heats up. Community leader Apostle Eugene Sinclair says residents fear being caught in the cross-fire of this deadly war.
“In recent days it is affecting the whole community on a negative scale. People are scared to walk around, people are scared to visit families. We get people from outside who also are also very scared to come to Westbury and we are so traumatised in the area that we really don’t know what to do anymore as a community,” says Apostle Sinclair.
Apostle Sinclair says gunfire has been a daily occurrence in recent weeks with numerous shooting incidents having been reported.
“There is a lot of shooting happening you know. To me it sounds like it’s one of the territory things that are happening but the shooting has been ongoing and just yesterday we had a shooting where a young man was shot and it is really a negative impact on our children and the community is very traumatised. Every week we got a shooting and we hope that SAPS can intervene and more visibility can also scale down on the shooting,” Apostle Sinclair explains.
Former gang member Mario Van Wyk attributes the recent spike in gang violence to the high level of unemployment in the community. He says many residents, who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, have resorted to selling drugs to put food on the table.
“More guys are coming up and during COVID people lost their jobs and their homes and income and people have lost family. So what happens now, for argument sake, I would get some of my provident fund and I speak to someone and say look we going to struggle so we need to start doing this business and that’s how people begin and that’s how they start opening shops. They call it opening shops and you have it as your corner. That I would say is on the increase due to unemployment being a big contributor,” says Van Wyk.
Van Wyk says the lack of police visibility in the area is to blame for the recent increase in gang violence. He says more officers are needed on the ground to suppress the violence.
“Whenever Police Minister Bheki Cele puts out a task force in communities, it only lasts for seven days then it dies down. Even anti-gang unit. Listen to the words anti-gang unit, if these units could take up the task and infiltrate and if we can have this task force when we have a house identified, the police should be there. Because you know what police does, they come in and let’s say your name is on a list, they come in, they search and they leave. The minute they leave, the guy that planted the gun, remember a person doesn’t have a gun on him unless he is on a mission and then the police coming in and just doing a walk about is not going to help. We are not active in the those ways, police are not active,” Van Wyk added.
Police are yet to comment on official stats regarding gang violence in the area.