Children soft target for gangs

A view of Ocean View.

More policing in Ocean View won’t stop gangsterism, but protecting children’s right to a childhood just might, says a man trying to do just that.

Ocean View Care Centre founder Johann Kikillus says government is fuelling gangs by failing children.

He has worked extensively with drug addicts, gangsters, ex-cons through the centre, which is a division of Soteria Ministries, an NPO that helps women and children trapped in the cycle of abuse and addiction.

“From the many conversations I’ve had, one thing was very clear: 99% of the men I spoke to admitted that gangsterism was not the life they would have chosen but it was an easy way out at the time,” he said.

A common theme, he said, ran through many of their stories: poverty, broken homes, a lack of resources and opportunities. And when they dropped out of school, the gangs were waiting.

During his weekly home visits around the community, Mr Kikillus sees youngsters between the ages of eight and 15 sitting in the streets. He says they tell him they aren’t wanted back at school due to bad behaviour and drug use and that their parents aren’t interested in talking to the principal to take them back.

“If we want to take gangsterism seriously in this community, we need to prioritise working with these children,” Mr Kikillus said.

Last year, Ocean View marked the half century since victims of apartheid’s forced removals in Simon’s Town and surrounds were dumped there.

Since then, Mr Kikillus said, there had been little to no improvement in education and social services for the community.

He wants the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) and the Department of Social Development (DSD) to deploy field workers to Ocean View as well as a truancy officer to determine why children are not in school.

Ocean View resident and chief of the South Peninsula Customary Khoi Council Ishmael “Ishsaqua” Sabodien agrees with Mr Kikillus.

He said parents didn’t know how to handle problematic behaviour by their children or what to do if children were bullied at school.

As a former teacher of environmental education at an NPO, he said, he had noticed how children excelled when someone took the time to listen to them and help them with problems.

He said he had encountered young children taking drugs because they had been kicked out of school, there was no food at home and they did not know what to do.

In a joint statement last month, Education MEC Debbie Schafer and Community Safety MEC Alan expressed concern for teachers and pupils caught up in gang violence.

In 2017, according to the Safe Schools Directorate, there were 177 instances, across the Western Cape where drugs were found on pupils, and, in 2018, the number increased to 194.

In 2017, 56 instances were reported where pupils had weapons on them on school premises and the number increased to 78 in 2018.

Jessica Shelver, the spokesperson for Ms Schafer, said gang violence deprived children of an education, and without proper education, many children were drawn into gangs, continuing the destructive cycle.

She said according to records from 2015 to 2019, on average, the pupil drop-out rate for Ocean View Secondary school was 30 to 40 pupils from Grade 9 to 10 with a similar number for Grade 10 to 11.

She said parental involvement was an important factor in pupil drop-outs and she encouraged schools to engage with parents to ensure they stayed active in their children’s education.

“While we deal with the effects of this in schools every day, there is very little that education and social development can do if SAPS do not play their part in tackling gangsterism,” she said.

According to Ms Shelver, the WCED school social workers and psychologists visit Ocean View regularly and the department arranges regular activities to empower schools such as anti-bullying week, workshops on restorative justice, classroom management and holiday programmes.

Department of Social Development spokeswoman Cayla Murray said the department had increased its funding for social services in Ocean View to employ more social workers there.

It would also be increasing funds, in the new financial year, to a non-profit organisation that focuses on the protection and development of children and youth.

Ocean View police spokesman, Sergeant Leon Fortuin said more resources had recently been deployed to Ocean View and the Wynberg Cluster group is deployed in the area regularly as well as the newly established Anti Gang Unit. He said four incidents of gang violence had been reported since the beginning of the year.

Call Social Development’s local office, at 44 Main Road, Fish Hoek, at 021001 3033.

Call the Safe Schools Programme helpline toll free at 0800 45 46 47.

For more information about the Ocean View Care Centre, call Mr Kikillus at 084 280 2213.