Natasha Hein, a resident of Westbury, a township in Western Johannesburg, was one of the first young people to attend the Westbury Youth Centre, which receives funding support from the KONE Centennial Foundation. Today, she is a staff member of the Centre and a respected youth leader in the struggle to make Westbury a safer and more productive community.
Westbury has frequently been the scene of fatal drug-related shootings. Like the rest of the law-abiding residents of her community, Natasha was horrified when a young mother named Heather Petersen was caught in a violent shootout between two gangs September 27th while innocently walking her child home from school. Peterson’s senseless death enraged the entire community, causing it to close down the streets of Westbury and demonstrate en masse before the local police station. Natasha, who took part in those demonstrations, wrote this blog to express her own frustration at police inactivity in the face of frightening levels of ongoing violence in a community that has suffered from years of government neglect.
Text and photo by Natasha Hein
Westbury, enough is enough!
The Westbury community took to the streets on Friday, 28 September in a drastic attempt to the get the attention of our government, more especially the attention of the Minister of the South African Police, Bheki Cele.
Over the past few months we’ve been experiencing a rise in gun violence related to drug dealers fighting over drug corners. This resulted in young men losing their lives, families being robbed of fathers, mothers losing their sons, and the community of Westbury suffering the loss of innocent lives of those caught in crossfires while trying to cross the street. Isn’t this enough?
A week ago, Westbury came to a total standstill when a mother lost her life while trying to protect her daughter who was shot in the leg. This is where the idea of the total shutdown began: the community decided that enough is enough.
The second strike took place on Monday, 1 October, but this time we had people from all walks of life coming out to support our cause. The media portrayed us as an uncivilized community looking for attention, but tell me, how would you feel every weekend when you have to bury another father, brother or son who lost his life in a shootout caused by drug dealers? How would you feel if your mother, while on her way home with your school report underneath her arm, got shot and died in the street, lying by a pool of her own blood? How would you feel if you reported the incident to the local police force only to see the killer walking free the very next day? Kindly answer.
During the two shutdowns, the Police Force came out in their numbers, and who did they attack? They attacked the community. They fired rubber bullets, arrested protestors, and recorded videos of us, all the while claiming that we’re uneducated, violent people who are just seeking attention.
Minister of Police Bheki Cele finally made his appearance on Tuesday, 2 October. He gave our people hope, promising to rid our community of all the drug dealers, pushers, murderers and criminals. He returned on Wednesday, 3 October to implement all his promises and a few arrests have been made.
This is the kind of circumstances that Mashup, Westbury Youth Centre is currently faced with, but we can state that neither our students nor staff are phased by this. Mashup equips and empowers young people with skills to uplift and build not only themselves but the community of Westbury as a whole. We have to make this clear, we cannot operate without our partners, who through their assistance, provides hope and opportunities for the youth within Westbury.
So Westbury, is enough now enough? Yes, it is, but don’t you worry Westbury, we shall rise again.