Lavender Hill residents feel ‘ignored by City councillors’

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Empty chairs where City of Cape Town councillors should have been sitting reflected Lavender Hill residents’ long wait for government services to combat gender-based violence in the area.

One of the councillors eventually arrived two hours after the meeting this past weekend was scheduled to start. Another two arrived an hour after that and a fourth confirmed councillor did not attend the public meeting.

Llewellyn Jordaan, the area’s councillor who serves on the City’s social development portfolio, said that they were late because the Democratic Alliance party that they work for had called them out to Mitchell’s Plain. A by-election on Saturday meant that all councillors needed to monitor voting.

City councillor Llewellyn Jordaan and trauma counsellor Moeriedah Dien. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ward councillor Shanen Rossouw meanwhile said she was late because she had to attend a housing meeting that morning as well.

Lavender Hill residents were unimpressed. They told the councillors they again felt ignored despite regular media headlines about violent bloodshed in the drugs and gangs danger zone they call home.

Jordaan promised residents a meeting with his portfolio committee on November 7.

“You asked what programmes are in place and that rings alarm bells. If there were programmes in place you would not be asking these questions,” he told residents.

“I want to invite the stakeholders to the social development portfolio to do a presentation. It’s important that politicians are made aware of the situation. You need to hold them accountable and ask them what they are rolling out.

“Put it on the table in front of our social development portfolio. You need to stay on board with all these programmes that you think should be rolled out and what it should entail. Nothing can be designed for you, without you.”

Residents at the meeting were a mix of volunteers and non-governmental organisation workers who assist abused women access services. An equal number of men and women were among the roughly 30 persons at the meeting.

They accepted Jordaan’s offer and plan to outline barriers faced to remedy intolerable levels of violence against women and children.

Ellen Pakkies, a Lavender Hill mother well-known for killing her teenage drug addict son, said at the meeting that government intervention should address drug abuse.

Community worker Ellen Pakkies in Lavender Hill. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Pakkies was not sent to jail for her son’s murder a few years ago but was instead sentenced to do community service. The Wynberg Magistrate’s Court declared that Pakkies already served a tough sentence after daily torment from her son. He had stolen her clothes, beat her and harassed her for money.

“Drugs are the main problem. When a child is on drugs they force their mothers to get them money. Some mothers have all four their children who are on drugs. Some of these young men on drugs rape and abuse their mothers. People don’t talk about it because they feel ashamed,” said Pakkies.

“There are no services for abused women in Lavender Hill. We are trying to do our best to help them.”

A main concern in Lavender Hill is that there are no safe homes or shelters where abused women can seek refuge. After they lay charges at local police stations they mostly have to return home where they are battered again.

Aysha Davids from the Women Hope for the Nation non-governmental organisation in Lavender Hill said that the area needed shelters because “women don’t want to leave the area because they want to be near their families”.

Davids addressed the justice system and told councillors that local police needed to be “educated on how to treat women”.

“The police should respect women who have been assaulted. They should handle them with care. You hear them speak, ‘What is your problem? What do you want?’ They don’t know how to speak to the community but they want respect,” said Davids.

“We had a rape case involving a young girl. We called the police. When they came to fetch her, she had to sit in the back of the police van and she was already traumatised.”

Davids said that police should also “help women who have an interdict against their abusers”.

“It’s almost like that interdict don’t count. The police don’t take that serious. A woman came to us and she had an interdict. She phoned the police and they didn’t come out. By the time they send out a van, that lady could be killed already,” said Davids.

Moeriedah Dien, trauma counsellor at the Steenberg Police Station serving neighbouring Lavender Hill, said that workshops would help women to understand their rights.

Dien is often one of the first persons an abused woman would talk to when she arrives at the police station after being beaten. She said that countless women would lay charges against their partners but withdraw these charges the next day.

“That is the cycle of domestic violence. We need more workshops to educate these women on their rights. When they withdraw a case they give their partner permission to beat them up again. Their partners tell them that the police won’t listen to them again,” said Dien.

“Families also tell women, ‘How can you put him in prison?’ Women will sit in an abusive situation because they don’t know where the next plate of food is coming from. They are indirectly saying, ‘It’s okay for him to beat me up because he is providing for us.’ They don’t have anywhere else to go with their children.”

Claudia Lopes, project coordinator with the meeting organiser Heinrich Boll Foundation, said they would follow up with the community workers to strengthen ties with local government.

Lopes said the town hall meeting was part of a series of talks about gender-based violence in the Western Cape and Gauteng. These talks are part of a two-year programme launched in July last year to research services aimed at helping communities find solutions to ongoing abuse against women.

“We have found out at three town hall meetings that Khayelitsha, Mitchell’s Plain and a farming area in the Western Cape don’t have programmes focused on gender-based violence,” said Lopes.

She said that working with local government has not been the easiest part of the job.

“In Khayelitsha, a ward councillor said he would organise a venue. When we got there it was locked and his phone was off. Only one ward councillor pitched out of four that said they would be there. The ward councillor that pitched was new and could not debate on these issues or make any commitments,” said Lopes.

“In Mitchell’ Plain, a ward councillor spoke about how women are setting fires leaving their hair straighteners on. Then he sexually harassed a woman from one of the organisations in front of everybody.

“She handed him a present and he said, ‘Oh are you my present or is this my present?’ I’ve tried to contact this guy again and had no feedback from him.”

Lopes said that a previous town hall meeting also turned out to be a political battle between political players in the ANC and Democratic Alliance.

 

A shorter, edited version of this article was published in the Cape Times regional daily newspaper in the Western Cape province in South Africa on September 18 2012.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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