Another day of pain
"Two to three dead bodies a day," says my friend as we talk about the ongoing gang warfare he bears witness to in a part of the Cape Flats.
"Two to three bodies a day," he repeats, as if I did not hear the first time.
It has been a while since I have seen so much misery in one day.
My day starts in a windswept area called Delft. As my car enters the gate at 8.50am, some children are already leaving the school, slowly drifting nowhere.
"Please go for a walk," the principal says as I enter the school hall. He needs time to calm the children before I can even speak to them.
This is rough territory. Many of the children come from Blikkiesdorp.
"The name says it all," offers one of the deputies, referring to tin shacks down the road.
In one classroom a group of boys are eating samp and beans from a cold plate as if they have not seen food for a long time.
These young men at Hindle High School stand a much greater chance of getting into Pollsmoor Prison than UCT - and they know it.
To the other side of the Cape Flats is Lavender Hill High School, a five-minute drive from where I grew up in Retreat.
As I look down at the hundreds of young people in front of me, I wonder what I could possibly say that might change the chances of these beautiful minds. The pupils here know other children who have fallen to "stray bullets".
Later, while driving out of the school gates, I find a small group of very young gangsters waiting to connect with the pupils when they leave the premises.
Why, I don't know. To rob, recruit, intimidate, or to scare?
A lot of children - and mothers - have been buried in these areas recently.
The politician in charge of safety and security (really) speaks first, telling stories about children he has met on the Flats, including one who had six bullets in a tender body. My friends in the area share terrifying stories about funerals.
Anywhere else, where people have money, such a high body count would have led to the place being declared an emergency area while police cars and armed private patrols with huge, new trucks on shiny, high wheels would have been visible everywhere. Not in Lavender Hill or Delft.
There is no question that the army has to be called in simply to stop the haemorrhaging, but then we need to work on long-term solutions.
It is equally clear the state will have to pour massive resources into places like Hanover Park, Langa and Manenberg to create a future for young people.
This problem is not going to go away with piecemeal solutions.
We must provide effective training and productive work for out-of-school youth to give them a sense of hope beyond the drab, colourless flats of these areas.
We need to declare a real war on drugs so the comfortably established networks of criminals that sustain these endless cycles of chemical dependency are broken.
We should insist on viable community centres with education-rich programmes and activities.
In the long run, there is no other lasting solution than to keep young boys, especially, in school.
But it does not help to send children to school when teachers are not always there and timetables are seldom respected.
With fathers often in prison, with young mothers in cycles of pregnancy, and older mothers often at their wits end about how to protect their children, the hard reality is that school might be one of the only places left (apart from the churches and mosques) where young people could still be persuaded to change their course.
What warmed my heart at both Hindle and Lavender was the energetic presence of older women who invest their time, skills and resources in these young people by organising choirs, field trips, workshops and motivational speakers.
They do not ask for or receive a cent in return.
Once again, ordinary citizens are holding communities together while the political parties play their sordid games about whether or not to bring in the army.
In the meantime, the children continue to die.