Sue Maclennan @SusanMaclennan2
A tragedy was turned into positive action when the murder of a young man last month spurred a Grahamstown community to try and make their neighbourhood safer.
Late on 29 April Sonwabo Venani, a respected soccer player and administrator at Santos FC, was found stabbed to death behind a popular drinking spot opposite CM Vellem and Samuel Ntlebi Primary Schools.
Seven days later, the manager of the Makanaskop Tavern had brought in a front-end loader to clear the huge mound of rubbish that had accumulated there over several years, and a team was preparing holes and cement for poles for a fence to enclose the area that had become a dirty, unsafe haven for drug dealers and robbers.
“It was to be expected that there would be a murder in that place,” said Colley Draai, 82, who has lived in Joza Street since 1962. His back gate faces on to the back of the tavern premises.
“On the corner there are always dagga smokers,” he told Grocott’s Mail. He described how thugs would stand in the dark at either end of the lane running between the back of the tavern and the houses, and signal to each other, whistling when a likely mugging victim entered it.
He said it wasn’t the first time someone had been stabbed and robbed. This was the first time someone had been killed.
“That’s what’s wrong with us as authorities,” said Draai, who is a former ward councillor for Ward 2. “We wait until something goes wrong before we act.”
But it’s not only the crime that disturbs him.
“This should have been done long ago [the clearing of the dump]. There should never have been a dump here. I’ve never witnessed a thing like this.
“You will hear from as early as 5am the rumbling of wheelbarrows as young children come to throw the household rubbish here. When you talk to them they become very insolent – little children, they become very disrespectful.
“Now it’s going to be fine though. It’s going to be fenced in,” he said. “I’m very happy.”
In the house opposite Draai, sharing a boundary, lives Buli Makasi, who watched silently as the front-end loader scooped up years of rubbish.
“Of course I’m relieved,” she said. “I’m very relieved.”
While there’s no doubt that the result is a good one for everyone concerned, not everyone concerned agrees about how things were set in motion.
Current Makana Councillor for Ward 2, Rami Xonxa, said he’d picked up that the community was deeply disturbed by Sonwabo’s murder on their doorstep.
He’d convened a meeting and residents had resolved to ask the owner of the business to clean up and secure the premises.
Xonxa said it was heart-warming to see how quickly the owner of the business had responded.
“Within less than 24 hours of that meeting, he was already working here to clean up. I am extremely impressed by his community spirit,” Xonxa said.
Manager of the Joza Bottle Store and adjacent Makanaskop Tavern, William Thompson, however said on that day, Wednesday 3 May, staff had panicked when a mob arrived outside threatening to burn down the premises. They had pressed the panic button for the security company, who called him and he arrived there accompanied by four security vehicles.
Heated discussion followed, Thompson said, during which he said senior officers from the Joza Police Station were present.
“Me and my wife were treated very badly,” Thompson said. “We were threatened and shouted at.
“In the meeting I said I would get the job done,” said Thompson, who said he’d been totally unaware of what a bad state the back of the premises was in. Like everyone else in the community, he was shocked and horrified by the murder.
Because he wasn’t sure how residents would react, he closed the business for a week.
That and the cleanup had cost him a lot of money he said.
He was frustrated because he’d put up fencing before and it had been cut down and removed within days.
Grocott’s Mail has not yet received a response from SAPS to questions about what occurred on that day, nor have they issued a media statement detailing their version of events.