Residents of Riverlea in Johannesburg say they risk constantly being in the line of fire as gang violence surges.
Fearful residents say more than a dozen people have been shot and killed in recent months. Most, if not all, are linked to a drug turf war.
On Sunday last week, a man was shot and killed by a stray bullet while lying in bed at his home. Residents claim that law enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the ongoing violence in the area, which allows gangs to run rampant.
Daily gang violence
The community of Riverlea has become increasingly wary as gunshots ring out daily. Gang violence has spiked in recent months. Residents say a bloody drug-inspired turf war is playing out on the streets in broad daylight, and they are the victims.
Long-time resident, Cynthia Hobbs, says the violence has escalated to the point where residents are afraid to leave their homes. Children play inside to avoid being killed in the crossfire.
“Here we are just too scared to leave our homes. Children are confined to the house, not even the yard because you are too scared the kids may be caught in the crossfire of a stray bullet, we had an incident just last week of a man in his shack killed by a stray bullet. So I tell you the residents of Riverlea are just living in fear, constant fear,” says fearful resident Hobbs.
Former gang member, Ismail van Wyk, who is now a community activist, says that this year alone almost 20 youths were killed in the community.
“Riverlea is just gone from bad to worse. If I could just point out the youth killings and that is between the ages of 13 up to 21. This year alone, we have got 19 youths that have been killed by gun violence and it is just escalating and getting worse as we speak,” says Van Wyk.
He has attributed the recent spike in gang violence to the high levels of unemployment in the community. He says since the Covid-19 pandemic, many residents who lost their jobs have now resorted to selling drugs to put food on the table.
“Over the past few years I would just say that things have turned around and just got worse due to the fact that unemployment and crime is affecting our youth from a couple of years ago until now the unemployment has pushed people to all sorts of violence and drug peddling and drug using and terrorising the community. This is due to the fact that our people don’t have jobs,” 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 police need to be permanently deployed to the area to contain the violence.
“If there is an incident today then we march to the police station and then they are there for three days. You can mention provincial police, you can mention anti-gang unit, and another unit they are there not more than one week. But one big concern and I want to highlight this concern, police know the drug dealers and the shooters in our community and they look the other way unless we the community stage a protest or do something about it,” he adds.
Gauteng police are yet to comment with official statistics on gang-related crimes as well as arrests in Riverlea.