In an extraordinary development, a group of about 50 Rastafarians are playing a central role in protecting a community faced with a gang crisis in schools. The Rastafarians stepped in when a primary school in Heidedal, outside Bloemfontein was attacked recently and led a march joined by 600 local people.
Opposed to all forms of violence, the Rastafarians describe the attack as a spiritual challenge. They were aware that the community did not approve of their spiritual use of cannabis, but in essence they rejected the degenerate society of materialism, oppression, and sensual pleasures, called Babylon. They are determined to protect the community and especially the children against any evil that comes in their way.
I spoke with one of the leading elders or phoeba as they are known and he told me how events unfolded on 23 September 2005. Like many other Rastafarians in this community, he crafts handbags and necklaces to sell at markets for an income. He preferred not to be identified.
“We are not afraid to say that Rastafarians instigated the march that spread like a wildfire throughout the townships where we ended up with a crowd of 600 looking for these so-called gangs who came to destroy our children in our communities”, he said.
It is know that these gang members are linked with the 666, also known as the number of the Anti-Christ. These gangs are BTK (Born to Kill), NBK (Natural Born Killers) and Maroma or Romans. They ranged from primary school youngsters to some in their twenties. The elder described the day.
Gang violence resulted in the death of one person and another critically wounded. 14 people were arrested and charged with public violence.
“We were sitting at our homes when we saw police cars, vans and helicopters making a noise in Heidedal. We ran to the streets to hear what was going on and we saw people running and great panic occurred in the streets. The first rumour was that boys from the initiation schools wanted to kill our children and that they are at the first school in Heidedal namely Petunia school. As a community we were confused, scared and angry about the chaos that was happening in Heidedal.”
As a parent and community member, he and others were determined to protect the children if evil threatened their education since this was their only hope. “The school is where they are supposed to be safe, he said. “We are not going to sit at home and fold our hands when people are going to hurt our children at the schools.”
They then marched to the school with numerous parents and community members. It was chaos with many different stories and rumours floating around. A lot happened that day. He said some people were mistaken as gang members and got hurt. “The community apologises for that,” he said.
Eventually it was established that it was rivalry between two gangs who went to the schools to fetch their own gang members when school started and things got out of hand. Children and parents were caught in the mayhem.
This was the first time this happened in Heidedal. Sadly many children silently belong to the gangs involved in this senseless violence and are lured in when they did not feel a sense of belonging at home. They get to know the child at school and the child’s background and feed on the weakness of the family structure at home before anything else.
Besides the Rastafarians, Christian churches have also intensified prayer meetings, prayer walks, discipleship of learners and evangelism in communities. “As a member of the Rastafarian community, I believe that Heidedal displayed the real spirit of UBUNTU. We stood together as a community when our children’s lives were threatened. You ask yourself if this will happen again. The answer would be maybe. If you asked if they will try again to attack Heidedal, I will say that they will be stupid to try again. We stand for no violence but we are willing to protect our own against evil or physical principalities that pose a danger to our community, especially our children.
This is bigger than one specific community, religious or political party standing together. This is due to an entire community standing up as One Love,” said the elder seated with others who agreed that unity was all that could keep any community together.
As I drove to my home nearby my mind was scurrying through the events. Rastafarians have come forward, Christian churches are praying, political leaders are preaching, individual NPO’s are suggesting marches against violence.
As a member and parent from Heidedal my cry would be to stop the preaching and start with the action. Get systems in place to keep our children from joining gang members. So many of our children don’t know what to do with their time after school or weekends. Get more NPOs involved that give recreational programmes. Let these NPOs get involved with the schools. Ask unemployed parents to get involved in these programmes and in their children’s lives by supporting these parents as well with educational gaps.
We live in a world where we do not want to believe in the supernatural, but maybe this was more a planned supernatural attack than physical, looking at the gang members’ brand. Well, and if you really want to be superstitious, this event took place on 23 September, a few days before the Rare blood moon in September. (Write to The Journalist at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your experiences.