Cape Town – The Cloete’s home is supposed to be their safe haven. But when bullets start flying in Manenberg, their second-storey flat on Storms River Road is anything but a sanctuary.
Five bullet holes decorate the outside wall of their lounge and two have pierced their sturdy door as they were caught in the crossfire of yet another gang war which broke out in the volatile community a month ago.
The family’s home is in the middle of what police call a hostile area, where members of the Americans, Hard Livings and Dixie Boys fought for turf for over four weeks.
And because they can’t afford to move somewhere safer, the Cloetes have no other choice but to huddle in their kitchen, bathroom, or a back room to escape the bullets.
Rencia Cloete, 53, points out two holes in the interior walls – one near a collage of family photos and another on the right-hand corner of her wall clock, part of which was destroyed when the shot hit.
The lounge is neat and comfortable, but barely in use, the mother of three said.
“We can’t sit here, it’s not safe,” Rencia warned. “I even removed the TV from the wall because we’re too scared to watch it here.”
She has been shot twice in the past decade.
Early on a Christmas morning a few years ago, she had been hanging curtains in the lounge when she heard gunfire in the distance.
“I had been sitting on the couch, putting the forks into the curtains. When I got up and turned towards the window, it hit me. The impact was massive; blood started squirting from my head like a fountain.”
She escaped with only a superficial wound, but spent some time in hospital.
“The police told me I was living in a bad spot, but what can I do? We can’t afford to move away. We have been here for over 20 years.”
A few years before that, she was shot about 300m from her house, while walking home with her son and daughter from a nearby shopping centre.
“The bullet hit me out of the blue. It pierced a car window and got lodged in my side. But all I remember were the holes in my plastic bags, and the rice seeping through and falling on the ground.”
She spent a week in hospital. Upon her release she went to live with her sister in Ottery for a week because she refused to return home.
Recently her 33-year-old daughter was standing on the landing when she saw a group of men running. She instinctively decided to step back into the house.
“Split seconds later, a bullet hit right where she had been a few moments before,” Rencia said.
‘We’re not safe here’
Her home is even more vulnerable as petty thieves wanting to make a quick buck have carried away her boundary wall.
The street corner at the bottom of her stairs is a popular hangout for men keeping watch on the comings and goings along Duinefontein Road.
“Sometimes, when I am fed-up of picking up bullets in my yard, I will tell them to get away from my house and to go sit somewhere else. Tomorrow they could be drugged up and turn on me. But sometimes I get so angry that I just don’t care,” she fumed.
The shootings have escalated so much that her youngest daughter has moved in with her aunt.
Her son, LeRoy, 30, said he has grown used to the gunfire.
“I just run for cover. It doesn’t even shock me anymore,” he shrugged.
“On Wednesday, I had been standing in the doorway when the shooting started again, I moved away and stood against the wall next to the front door. I felt the vibrations as a bullet hit it.”
According to last year’s crime statistics, the Manenberg police precinct was third for the number of arrests for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in the Western Cape. It ranked eighth in the province’s top 10 for attempted murder.
Local police say additional resources have been deployed to stem the shootings, and a number of intelligence-driven operations are underway to disarm the gunmen and arrest those involved in the gang war.
Gunfire has ceased since Saturday, LeRoy said, after warring gangs met and reached a “peace agreement”.
This does little to ease the tension in her household, Rencia maintained, as the agreements rarely last more than a few months.
“We’re not safe here. We can’t walk freely and you always have to be on your guard. If I had money to move somewhere else, I wouldn’t think twice to do that. Life would be so much easier. But for now we are stuck in this house, where the danger is still real.”