Haunted by gang shootings

Frikkie Karstens talks to Pastor Ben Farao at the Christian Dependency Ministry at the Uniting Reformed Church, Scotssdene.

Two toddlers were shot in gang crossfire in Scottsville late last month. They both escaped with minor injuries, but the gang conflict that has torn the community apart shows little sign of easing.

Scottsville residents say gang shootings are a norm – in less than a year, one family has endured two deaths within weeks of each other and the wounding of a toddler.

Ouma, the matriarch of the family, is haunted by the deaths of her loved ones.

“I’m really heartbroken. Some nights I lie awake and it all comes back to me,” she said, asking not to be named for fear or reprisals.

The 70-something great-grandmother has buried her grandson, 28, and foster daughter, 18, after they were killed in gang conflict. Her two-year-old great-grand daughter was also injured in crossfire.

The family were first touched by gang violence when her grandson came out of jail. While in jail, he had been initiated into the 28s gang.

Ouma said she loved him dearly, despite his “mischief”.

“He had always said, ‘If the police come knocking, it will be because of me’.”

Reluctant to talk about why he was convicted, Ouma said that when he was released, he had changed for the better.

“His girlfriend was pregnant when he went to jail, and when he was released, the baby was a year and a few months old and he adored that child. Here people have babies young, when they are 15 or 16 already but he was grown up and that child was his whole life, shame,” she said.

Ouma said she had had a soft spot for her grandson because he was an orphan. His father had been shot dead shortly after he started school and his mother had died 10 years ago.

On the day he died, he had gone to the shop with his young niece and nephew. He was shot dead on the way and Ouma’s foster daughter witnessed the shooting.

The girl,18, was killed several weeks later – on almost the exact spot as her grandson. A 16-year-old who was with her at the time was also killed.

“They were good children. They were still at school and were doing well,” she said.

Scottsville residents say they live in fear because gang shootings happen randomly and frequently.

ScottsvilleNeighbourhood Watch chairman Gavin Riddles called gang conflict a “major concern”.

“Several people lost their lives and were seriously injured in the past months. It puts a negative impact on the neighbourhood watch as residents are scared to join up and take part in the patrols,” he said.

Mr Riddles feels a solution should be sought through a “peace forum”.

“Communities must unite to restore peace and safety,” he said.

Sub-council 2 chairman Grant Twigg agrees. Neighbourhood watches in the area were “not growing”, he said.

“You don’t see more people joining. It’s only a few individuals that are doing their best to fight crime.”

Mr Twigg said families who shielded their children when they committed crime were adding to the problem.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult for people to come forward and say ‘It’s my child’. If your child is going out and he is not working but he comes home with a lot of things, call the police and say, ‘There are stolen goods here.’ But if you keep quiet and watch as the stuff is sold, then you are contributing to the problem.”

Mr Twigg said the sub-council wanted to install cameras in parts of Scottsville, Scottsdene and Kraaifontein.

“We’re nearly there. It will happen within the next few months,” he said.

Ben Farao, pastor at the Uniting Reformed Church in Scottsdene, works with gangsters and drug addicts through the church’s Christian Dependency Ministry (CDM) programme.

He believes the solution to the breaking the back of gangsterism lies with a “higher power”.

He introduced the Northern News to Frikkie Karstens who graduated from the programme and now ministers to gangsters himself.

Mr Karstens, 44, was a gangster for 25 years, starting at the age of 18.

“Gangsters were my role models,” Mr Karstens said. “I chose it.”

He had always been rebellious despite being spoiled as a child.

“I was a rough chap,” he said. “I am the youngest of 11 children and the last child is always spoiled.”

His mother died when he was young and his father ran a shebeen.

The party lifestyle was a permanent fixture in his home and he grew up around the abuse of alcohol, and he believes that led to his own addiction to drugs later in life.

In his teens he lost interest in school and started stealing. He was caught and convicted multiple times and received mostly canings and fines, but by the time he was 17 he was considered an habitual criminal and was sentenced to five years in jail.

The first year was spent at a juvenile detention centre but when he was 18 he was transferred to Pollsmoor where he met his idols – hardened gangsters.

He was initiated into the 26s, one of three number gangs. The 26s are notorious for theft.

“And then I felt, ‘Wow, now I am a somebody in this jail’.”

Not satisfied with being a low-level gangster, Mr Karstens described himself as being “ambitious” and actively sought notoriety. He immersed himself in gang life.

“I was one of the most feared gangsters in Scottsdene,” he said.

His notoriety came with a high price though. While he survived an attempted hit and many close shaves, his heavy drug use had taken its toll on his health.

“My lungs were eaten away,” he said.

He was a shadow of the well-built guy he was in his early teens, and, according to Mr Farao, he could barely climb the two steps to the CDM’s door when he came there four years ago, desperate for help.

Today, Mr Karstens ministers to drug addicts and gangsters. He proudly declares that he has been drug-free for four years and has left the gangster lifestyle behind.

“Now I tell the people that I initiated into the number gangs about the Lord,” he said.

The Northern News asked the police if they had arrested anyone for the latest shootings, how frequently gang conflicts in Scottsville were reported to the police, how many known gangs were operating in the area and what progress had police made combating gang activity?

However,provincial police spokeswoman Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana responded with a one-line statement saying only that police were investigating.