Killer kids of SA's underage armies
Armed youngsters on Cape Flats 'should be seen as child soldiers'
When Imraahn* draws his weapon during battle his "heart aches" every time he sees his son behind enemy lines.
Imraahn was 13 when he became a child soldier and committed his first murder. That was 32 years ago. Today he is still immersed in murder and mayhem on the Cape Flats.
His son, who is in his teens, has followed suit. But father and son are on different sides in Manenberg's gang war. "He has been ordered to kill me but he doesn't have the heart. He was going to shoot me once, but he shot into the ceiling instead," said Imraahn.While children recruited into gangs are not formally recognised as child soldiers, academics and community leaders have called for a change in mindset.
The ranks of the Cape Flats gangs include about 10,000 children, more or less the same number that fought in the decade-long civil war that broke out in the Central African Republic in 2004, according to the UN agency for children, Unicef.
YOUNG, ARMED AND DANGEROUS
Gangs' use of child soldiers was the focus of a public discussion last week facilitated by Brian Williams, a visiting professor at the University of the Sacred Heart in Uganda and former council chairman at the University of the Western Cape. He has done research among warlords and gangs to come up with a "conservative" estimate of the number of child soldiers on the Cape Flats.
"The wide definition of a child soldier is any kid below 18 who is used by an organised armed group to carry and hide weapons, use violence against others based on orders, to kill and to do whatever they are ordered to do in service of state or non-state armed groups, within a particular context," said Williams, who has done peace training for child soldiers in several African countries."When I analysed what was happening in Africa around the child soldier phenomenon, it became clear to me that we have child soldiers on our doorstep."
Inspired by the dialogue last week, which took place at the University of Cape Town and was arranged by UCT, Sacred Heart and non-profit organisation Community Chest, a community leader said she had called a meeting in the gang stronghold of Hanover Park next week to discuss the scourge and how children's lives have been ruined.
Sinako*, of Nyanga, vividly remembers his first murder, when he was 14. He was given a gun and taught himself to use it.
"I shot him from the back. In his head," he told the Sunday Times this week. "I was afraid afterwards, but I had people cheering me up. They said: 'Now you're a boss, now we believe in you.'"
Sinako was paid R5,000 for the hit. "Then I became addicted to [the shooting]."
He has left the gang after a prosecutor introduced him to the Victory Outreach NGO, where he helps to rehabilitate other gangsters. "Now I believe in God, I am always in prayer and have asked for forgiveness."
NO TOY GUNS HERE
Roegshanda Pascoe is among those working to help youngsters in Manenberg, where she says they are used as "killing machines".
The youngest killer in the gang-torn community was just eight when he started. Pascoe said police often did not suspect such young children of carrying out hits and this boy, now 11, had become a master of disguise. Recently he apparently wore a hijab when he shot and killed a gangster."It's genocide on the Cape Flats. We have murders every day of our lives. In Delft [recently] during the taxi war, four bodies were just lying in the street," said Pascoe.
She said a new recruitment tactic involved gangsters filming themselves raping boys and threatening to release the footage on social media if they refused to join.
Williams said it was important to acknowledge that young gang members were in fact child soldiers before a sustainable solution could be developed.
"In the meantime, the underresourced and vulnerable communities must continue to work for peace and survive under conditions of oppression," he said.
"A solution is possible if there is a multi-agency and holistic approach that involves the community in its own liberation."
Imraahn, who spent many years behind bars while his son's drug-addict mother raised him in a home crawling with gangsters, acknowledges that he is likely to die on the streets.
Asked if he had ever thought of leaving the gang, he replied: "How?"
*Not their real namesWHERE DO CHILD SOLDIERS COME FROM?
• Most are forcibly recruited.
• Some are enticed by promises of luxuries and a better life.
• Others are compelled by families to join for economic or cultural reasons. – Source: Brian Williams
REAL-LIFE FIRST-PERSON SHOOTERS
On Monday night, Cape Town metro police responded to a gunshot detection alert in Hanover Park. Safety and security director Richard Bosman said the officers found a boy aged 13 with a pistol and magazines hidden in his trousers. The child, who lives with his grandmother, is believed to be affiliated with the Americans gang.