The sprawling shacks and flats along the numbered avenues that make up Alexandra township are laden with high levels of violence. In 2017/18, 90 people were murdered, up from the year before; the past year also saw an increase in other serious and violent crimes, including attempted murder, aggravated robbery, rape and sexual assault.
Several youth from Alex, who work as part of the Alex FM youth reporters network in partnership with Gun Free South Africa and the Children’s Radio Foundation, decided that this year’s youth day commemoration on June 16th would be dedicated to making their community a safer place by organising a peaceful walk to the police station to hand over a petition. The youth of 1976 had less resources and lived in a time when protest was illegal so the decision to do something that could bring about real change was one that the organising committee rallied behind.
Working with Masters in Psychology students from Wits University, the youth team designed a petition that members of the community signed. The petition comprised a list of calls for action to make Alexandra safer that was handed over to the police. Some of the demands included:
- Commit to a plan of action to recover illegal guns in Alexandra and destroy them;
- Enforce the Firearms Control Act by checking the domestic violence register at the police station to ensure known offenders are not granted gun licences; and
- Protect victims of abuse by removing guns from their homes under section 102 of the Firearms Control Act
To increase support from community members for the walk to the police station the organising team created radio jingles, reached out to other community NGOs such as Lifeline and Save the Children, and conducted outreach events in the lead up to the walk to get signatures for the petition.
A route for the walk was agreed upon that would accomplish visibility to the larger community so that additional people could join the walk or sign the petition.
The youth team met with Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) to gain necessary permissions for the gathering and ensure that walkers would be escorted along the route on 16 June.
A further meeting was organised with the Alexandra SAPS station commander to get commitment that the petition would be received and the demands considered.
Community beliefs about gun violence
The MA students used the mobilisation activities before the walk to conduct a baseline survey on community attitudes towards guns and gun violence in Alexandra. In total 500 surveys were distributed and preliminary findings show that 90% of respondents live in fear of gun violence, with only 10% of respondents strongly believing that they will never be directly impacted by gun violence.
The baseline research has yielded some interesting insights into people’s knowledge of and attitudes to gun violence and prevention, including how relevant gun laws can be used to save a life; the full report will be released at the end of October 2018 at a community stakeholders event in Alexandra.
Walking for peace
On the day of the walk, the team and other walkers from the community gathered at Alex FM’s offices to make placards, get kitted in t-shirts and build morale for the three kilometre walk to the police station.
As the walk progressed, young and old alike joined in the crowd, which attracted much attention and encouragement from onlookers and those wishing to join in or sign the petition. Walking through the streets and watching life go by on a Saturday morning it was easy to see how violence can fester in an under-serviced, densely populated neighbourhood with more shebeens than community centres and dark streets with no street lights. The youth team led walkers in songs, chants of being fed up with violence and a moment of silence was observed for the victims of the violence.
Live social media feeds went out on twitter and Facebook with walkers posting videos and pictures of the progress of the walk under the hashtag #SaferAlex #iguniflop #Walkagainstviolence
Once the crowd arrived and settled outside the Alexandra Police station, NGO reps gave messages of solidarity for the walk and handed out information on the services they offer within the community.
Police Constable Mazibuko received the petition on behalf of SAPS and committed to consider the demands. The youth will be following up on the progress during November in the lead up to 16 days of Activism against Violence.
Adèle Kirsten Director of Gun Free South Africa commended the efforts of the youth, stating:
Gun Free South Africa will support the follow up actions to ensure the petition is being actioned and has capacitated the organising team in establishing gun free zones.