The brutal reality of South Africa’s gun culture, and how some victims are fighting back.
A woman is shot and killed and a 10-year-old girl wounded in a shootout between rival gangs in Westbury, west of Johannesburg.
This is a real incident. And every day, there are similar news headlines everywhere in South Africa.
Sometimes, they make it to the main pages, sometimes they don’t.
There are far too many to report.
The death of this woman angered the community in Westbury and put the area on pause, loaded with tension, as the locals blocked roads, burned tyres and threw stones at the police.
They believed the police were not rightly addressing the turf war in the area over drugs and guns, and the violence the gangs perpetrated against women and children.
In South Africa, a total of 2,930 women and 294 girls were murdered in 2017/18, according to crime stats of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The statistics have driven some women at least to enrol in self-defence classes. They say they have to.
We visit the Black Duck Field Sports Shooting and Archery Range in Honingklip in Krugersdorp, about 38 kms from Johannesburg, where men, women and children are taught to use firearms at the outdoor range.
Donne Oosthuizen is a regular here and has been working with the Community Policing Forum (CPF) since 2002. She joined the neighborhood watch under the Douglasdale precinct, in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, in 2012; with that, came the responsibility to patrol the streets to protect the community.
“I didn’t have my husband to protect me so it was about myself; if we faced a situation [where we needed to defend ourselves] and obviously protect someone else if they needed it,” says Oosthuizen.
All this stems from the fact that she has also been a victim of crime.
I’ve been through a lot of crime, I have been held up, been hijacked. My husband has had a gun to his head. I have two guns of my own, a 9mm and a shotgun, and I’m going to be building up my collection.
Oosthuizen has two daughters, aged seven and 10, and encourages them to practise at the shooting range, so they are not scared of using firearms if they need to protect themselves, and also so they are aware of the dangers of using them.
“If there is a situation at home where we are not able to protect ourselves because we’ve been shot, they can then protect themselves. They both shoot 9mm guns,” she says.
Oosthuizen is one of five women on the neighborhood watch, the youngest being 19 and the oldest 60.
The 34-year-old Oosthuizen has introduced her mother, Debbie Walters, to firearms too.
“I haven’t been happy that my daughter has guns but I understand that in the times we live in, we sometimes have to protect ourselves, especially as women. When it comes to my granddaughters…. [if the situation arises], the girls will be able to protect us if necessary,” says Walters.
As we walk the length of the shooting range, shots are fired from all directions,deafening sounds not rare in South Africa’s inner cities, except that this time, it has a different context.
Judy Holding is yet another sharpshooter at the Black Duck range who has been handling guns since 2016. She feels a gun is a part of empowerment as it helps women protect themselves.
“South Africa is dangerous and you need to be quite ready. We love this country, so if we are going to be here, we need to be prepared to live where we are,” says Holding.
She does not own a firearm yet but is in the process of getting a licence.
According to the law, before owning a firearm, a person needs to obtain a licence from SAPS; he or she will need a licence for every firearm under possession. The person is then prescribed training at an accredited training institution for a proficiency certificate. The process takes about six months. From there on, one can obtain a legal firearm from accredited gun dealers.
But are guns, really, the only route to self-defence?
Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) was established in 1995 with the aim of reducing gun-related violence and making a solid contribution to the safety and security of South Africans.
One of its founding members is Adèle Kirsten, who has been “a non-violent activist” for over 40 years now.
“1976 was my first year in university, that’s when the Soweto Uprising happened. So I joined the anti-apartheid movement. Most of my work during that time was around teaching people and engaging in what we called ‘direct non-violent action’. Basically, I come from a social justice background,” says Kirsten.
Today, Kirsten is the Director of GFSA and one of the biggest opponents of gun ownership in South Africa. She played a role in the National Peace Accord (NPA) during the 1990-1994 transition to democracy.
NPA was sought to end violence in South Africa and help establish a multi-party democracy.
That period was incredibly violent, she remembers. “More people were killed during that period than during the apartheid years. A lot of us were helping the country move through that period and into the first national democratic elections in 1994. It was also a time when massive [slug] guns were in the country.
“So we had a national amnesty in 1994 [calling to hand in firearms]. We didn’t get as many guns as we had hoped and we realized this is something we wanted to work on – a commitment to transforming our society.”
In 1997, she was appointed to a committee by the then Minister of Safety and Security to help craft a new policy for gun laws. In 2000, the Firearms Control Act was passed by Parliament which is still in place today. The numbers may have come down, yet, the statistics are brutal.
In 2014, reportedly, gun-related incidents overtook car accidents as the leading cause of traumatic spinal cord injuries in Cape Town’s government hospitals.
Wemeet Tshepo Seboko, a 31-year-old photography and videography student at the Vaal University of Technology, who was shot and injured during a robbery in Soweto in Johannesburg. Seboko was home for the weekend for his younger sister’s birthday.
“There were three of us on our way back passing through a passage, including a female family friend, and a close friend. We heard someone running from behind us and made way for him. He suddenly stops, pulls out a gun and wants our phones.
“The two managed to get away and I was in a tussle with the guy. He ends up on the floor and I start to run. As I was running away, that’s when I was shot from behind. After he shot me, he came and took whatever belongings I had,” Seboko painfully recalls.
He was rushed to hospital where he spent 10 days and was told he might not walk again because of the bullet lodged in his spine; which he has to date. After 10 days in the Intensive Care Unit, Seboko was moved to a rehabilitation center.After three months, he willed himself to get back to mainstream life.
I just realized how beautiful the gift of life is after such a dramatic [incident], he says.
Seboko went back to school but didn’t complete his course at the Tshwane University of Pretoria because he lost interest. Things changed after he accepted the harsh reality of his life.
Fortunately, the man who inflicted such bodily harm on him was arrested a few months later, and in 2010, sentenced to 18 years in jail.
“I heard earlier this year that he was released. I have the anger for it, but ever since the incident, I have not let the anger overwhelm me to make me the same person that he is in terms of violence. So it doesn’t really affect me. I wouldn’t know until I come face-to-face with him. So right now, I’m feeling robbed not only by him but the justice system,” Seboko says.
Seboko quit his corporate job after getting himself a camera and went back to creative school. He loves photography and has been inspired by his friends. He hopes to turn his pain into creativity and awareness.
Trauma is never easy to deal with. Nthabiseng Mogale, a 25-year-old qualified paramedic in Johannesburg, has saved countless lives working out of an emergency room on wheels.
She talks about trauma management in transit. “If a patient was shot and is conscious, it’s easier because you can communicate. We try stabilizing the gun wounds, controlling the bleeding and if the patient is in too much pain, we get medication into the body using drips to be able to move the patient on to a spine board, called a stabilization board. This board minimizes pain and stabilizes the neck and the spine,” says Mogale.
Women and children continue to be vulnerable to gun-related crimes. With the festive season approaching, the numbers are likely to go up. A police officer working in central Johannesburg, who does not want to be named, says the only solution is more “visible policing”.
“There are more operations now, and roadblocks to stop criminals, and there’s more patrolling in the malls,” he says.
Yet, will the guns ever go silent in South Africa?
According to 2018 statistics by Gun Free South Africa(GFSA), women make up 11% of gun-related murder victims. Guns are also used to injure, threaten and intimidate.
• Women are most at risk of being shot in their home by their intimate partner.
• Most victims have been threatened with a firearm before being shot. The four main types of threatening gun-related behaviour by men are:
1) Threatening to shoot their partner
2) Cleaning, holding or loading a gun during an argument
3) Threatening to shoot a person or a pet the partner cares about
4) Shooting a gun during an argument.
• Intimate partner violence and gun deaths are particularly high in families where men use a gun for work, such as in the police, army or private security industry.
• Two national studies of femicide (the murder of women) show that the number of women killed by their intimate partner (called intimate femicide) has dropped from four women a day in 1999 (an average of one woman being killed every six hours) to three women a day (one every eight hours) in 2009. Researchers attributed this decline to the Firearms Control Act (2000).
• Men make up 89% of gun murder victims in South Africa.
• Men living in metro areas have a “notably higher” rate of murder.
• Murder rates are highest in the 15–29 years age group.
• 23 people are shot and killed every day in South Africa.
138 people survive a gunshot every day in South Africa,often with severe disabilities closely associated with spinal cord injury. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies trauma, specifically motor vehicle accidents, as the leading cause of such injuries worldwide, followed by falls and violence. However, according to the WHO, South Africa has a very high violence-related traumatic spinal cord injury rate in 2018.
From The Singing To The Shooting: ‘Will Never Forget For As Long As I live’
Forty-four years ago on this day, bullets tore through a peaceful school protest in South Africa ending in bloody riots and an uprising that got the world’s attention. Two of the students from the time shudder as they reflect on that cold, dark morning in June.
Forty-four years ago on this day, ‘Soweto Uprising’, South Africa’s famed student protest, led to bullets, fire and tears and an iconic photograph the world came to associate with the country’s brutal apartheid regime.
On June 16, 1976, a day etched in blood in South African history, 13-year-old school student, Hector Pieterson, was shot dead in the police firing that ensued, a moment captured for posterity by photographer Sam Nzima.
Even today, there are those who distinctly remember the coldness of that dark day, when all that the students protested was being taught in Afrikaans, a language they felt was oppressive.
Oupa Moloto, now 63, who was then a student at the Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto where it all started and who was thrown into prison after that horrific day, recalls it vividly. He thought it was going to be a peaceful protest, but it turned out to be a day filled with bullets, police dogs, burning tyres and angry students.
Moloto had first spoken to FORBES AFRICA in 2016 when he had shared all the details. The memories of that day will never fade away.
“Finding ourselves singing in the streets as young people, challenging the government of the day, it was just excitement. The sadness that is going to remain with us and going to be indelible in our lives is when the police started shooting at young people, that is the one incident that one will never forget for as long as I live,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
The protests started in Soweto and quickly moved to other townships in South Africa such as Alexandra and Tembisa. Towards the end of the week, the whole country was standing up against the government and everybody got involved; even adults and children in Bulwer, a small town in the KwaZulu-Natal region where Duduzile Dlamini-Ndubane was a student at Pholela High School.
She says they were told not to go to class by a group of male students on that Wednesday morning, and she was not too sure how they had received the information on the nationwide protest against teaching in the Afrikaans language.
“We made our way to the school grounds, we started singing, some students didn’t even know what was happening but nonetheless stayed with the group. We were then chased out of the school grounds and told to go back home. It was a noisy protest but no police came and there were no injuries,” remembers Dlamini-Ndubane.
Today, she is a professional nurse based in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa and Youth Day to her is a constant reminder that unity is key.
“When we unite behind a great cause, we change not only the current situation, but we make history. Youth need to unite and fight the right causes to change the world for the greater good,” she says.
Back in Soweto, Moloto says the struggle of today is an economic one for young people.
“Students are looking for economic freedom, hence #FeesMustFall; they want to get into the institute of learning without being in debt because they believe education can help them to be part of the economy of the country,” he says.
“When Hector died in 1976, he belonged to no party, he was just a student who died for all political affiliations of the time.”
However, going back to the Soweto Uprising, Moloto disagrees on how the commemoration of it has changed from then to now.
“In 1977, when we were commemorating, it was more of a unity, all political parties would gather at Regina Mundi to celebrate, today, the fight is no longer in a unified fashion. The municipalities and organizations have their own way of commemorating like AZAPO visits the Tsietsi Mashinini grave and the City of Johannesburg visits the Hector Pieterson Museum. That lack of unity is what concerns me. As long as we are not united when we commemorate, this day does not have an impact,” he says.
“When Hector died in 1976, he belonged to no party, he was just a student who died for all political affiliations of the time; we need to unify.”
After that eventful day, the liberation movements benefited because thousands of students joined political parties inside and outside of the country. June 16 was a catalyst in South Africa’s struggle for democracy, and scripted by the students in the nation’s history books.
Why Palliative Care Is Also Pertinent In The Pandemic
The real heroes are also palliative care providers who go out of their way for patients with chronic illnesses, like this Rwandan team of professionals that conducts home visits offering critical care to those afflicted even more during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s a Tuesday morning in mid-May, and the team from the Rwanda Palliative Care & Hospice Organisation (RPCHO) is preparing to visit the homes of terminally-ill patients in need of palliative or specialized medical care. The team, led by the organization’s Executive Secretary, Eric Kabisa, comprises a doctor, a nurse, a social worker and a psychologist.
For this team, their work tending to needy patients is more than just a job – it’s a deep calling.
This small team cares for over 70 patients with life-threatening illnesses; visiting them in their homes, providing medical consultation and nursing care as well as addressing some of their basic needs. They also offer counseling services to patients and care-givers.
FORBES AFRICA joins Kabisa’s team, all masked-up and ready with supplies, for the home visits. This team also includes nurse Peace Kyokunda.
The Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt disrupted the momentum of their work and though RPCHO was part of the essential services that had the green light to operate during the government-imposed lockdown in the country, Kabisa explains why the team had to temporarily stall the home visits.
“Since March 14, when the first Covid-19 case was discovered in Rwanda, we had to stop the home visits and would only do phone consultations. This is because we did not want to put our patients, most of who have very low immunity levels, at risk.”
For cases that needed urgent medical attention, Kabisa and his team would ensure an ambulance was dispatched to pick them up and rush them to hospital whatever time of day or night.
Technology was the only point of contact with the patients during the lockdown period as the team would offer counseling sessions and even guide care-givers via phone on how to handle the patients.
Sadly, the lockdown was not without casualties. Nurse Kyokunda narrates how they lost one of their patients during that period.
“One of our patients who suffered from cancer needed morphine to manage his severe pain but for two weeks, he could not access it… Even though we got him an ambulance to take him to hospital, it was too late. He died at the emergency ward,” she says, her voice laden with emotion.
As soon as the Rwandan government eased the lockdown restrictions, the palliative care team was ready to resume their duty-trips, exercising utmost precaution.
With supplies including cartons of milk and adult diapers, among other things, we set off to visit the first patient with them.
Soline Kabagwira lies silently on a mat spread out on the floor of her small living room. A combination of cervical cancer and HIV/Aids has left her scrawny and frail.
The house is quiet save for the birds chirping outside her small window and young children playing in the distance. Her own two children are up and about doing chores their mother would probably have been attending to had she been well.
On seeing Kabisa and Kyokunda, Kabagwira barely manages a faint smile and can hardly move. She welcomes us but does not allow us to take any pictures.
We are the first group of people to visit her since the lockdown.
“This pandemic robbed me of something precious; people’s company. Before, people would come to see me, talk to me and even pray for me. That would give me hope, something to look forward to. But now, it’s quite lonely, no one comes by anymore,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Besides the loneliness, her days are filled with thoughts of what would happen to her children after her time.
“Who will take care of them when I’m gone?” she asks, shedding silent tears.
Kabisa and Kyokunda empathize with Kabagwira and take time to counsel her. They speak words of reassurance and comfort while exuding utmost professionalism. By the time we leave, Kabagwira is calm and gently falling asleep. We leave, but with an assurance of another visit soon. (Unfortunately, FORBES AFRICA learned that Kabagwira breathed her last on June 5.)
On our trip that day in May with RPCHO, we also meet Antoinette Bayambaze, another patient suffering from cervical cancer. Since the start of the lockdown in Rwanda, her condition has been moving from bad to worse. She is unable to speak but her daughter Angeline Nyirasabimana graciously agrees to share her experience from a care-giver’s perspective.
With a family of her own to take care of, Nyirasabimana has had to find a way to juggle between being a wife, mother, businesswoman and care-giver to her terminally-ill mother. She had somewhat mastered the art of wearing each of these hats, but the Covid-19 pandemic threw her off balance.
“This period has been particularly difficult for us. With the lockdown measures, I could not go to see my mother who lives very far from me. The palliative care team also had to stop the home visits. My mother did not take our absence well as she did not understand much about the pandemic. Her condition quickly deteriorated,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Being far from her mother when she needed her most weighed Nyirasabimana down.
“It was tough helping my mother remotely. Taking care of a sick loved one demands physical presence. There are some situations that just cannot work with social distancing,” she says.
Apart from the distance, Nyirasabimana could not easily access pain medicine as well as supplies such as adult diapers crucial for her mother, which was a main cause for concern during the lockdown.
“It was tough helping my mother remotely. Taking care of a sick loved one demands physical presence. There are some situations that just cannot work with social distancing.”
The RPCHO does not work in isolation. In fact, the government considers it a crucial link in the palliative care chain.
Dr Francois Uwinkindi is the Director of the Cancer Diseases Unit at the Rwanda Biomedical Center. He works closely with Kabisa and his team to ensure patients with life-threatening diseases in the community get the care they need.
For many cancer patients, accessing the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence located in northern Rwanda for treatment and drugs was an uphill task during the lockdown period, forcing the government to come up with various solutions.
“Drugs that could only be found at the Butaro Cancer Center were now available at the Rwanda Cancer Center located at the Rwanda Military Hospital in Kanombe. The government would also provide transport services for patients who needed to go for treatment at the Butaro Cancer Center,” says Uwinkindi.
The Rwanda government also explored the option of using drones to deliver drugs to cancer patients in the rural areas, saving many lives in the process.
Post Covid-19, Uwinkindi is of the opinion that technology is the way to go. “Where necessary, we should exploit ‘telehealth’ and continue with consultations via phone or video calls. This greatly reduces costs and time,” he says.
All in all, palliative care teams around the world have had to find creative ways to work around the Covid-19 pandemic to provide crucial services to patients with chronic illnesses, recognizing that palliative care is a necessity, even during a flu pandemic.
– Tesi Kaven
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Has Died
This is a developing story.
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has died, the government of the Republic of Burundi announced in a statement that was posted on their twitter account.
“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020,”
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