A suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, Manenberg was established in the Cape Flats, a vast low-lying sand dune, during the late 1960s by the apartheid government as an area for Coloured families. Marginalized by culture, history and geography, most of Manenberg’s estimated 70,000 residents live in overcrowded and problematic conditions. More than twenty years since the end of apartheid, Manenberg has not seen the fruits of democracy. The community is largely recognized in South African media for its social problems, which include unemployment, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, crime, and above all, relentless gang violence.
In the midst of Manenberg’s turmoil, the Lottering family remains bound by faith, loyalty, and love, creating their own safe world, a barrier against the violence outside.
In the 1960s, many of Manenberg’s first residents were removed from thriving neighborhoods near Cape Town’s city center and relocated here. Over the past year attempts have been made by the city to improve living conditions by renovating the row houses built during apartheid. Gang violence prevented the completion of the renovations and families have been forced to settle in shipping containers intended for temporary use. Many containers house four to twelve family members.
Debby Lottering, 25, at home in Manenberg. She shares the two-story, three-bedroom duplex home with her three children and her cousin, Ralph Richards. Unemployment in the Cape Flats area is reportedly over 60%. Yet Debby, a single mom, works 50 – 55 hours a week at Pinto’s Foods. Painting and buying curtains, Debby spends leftover income on enriching her home for her family.
Debby’s sister Naomi Lottering with her then two-year-old son, Shaquille, at the ARK, a center for rehabilitation in Faure, a suburb fifteen miles from Manenberg. Naomi grew up in Manenberg and in her early teens began spending more and more time on the streets. Today, she sometimes doesn’t contact her family for weeks or months at a time, but whenever she comes home to Manenberg she is welcomed by her sister, Debby, and father, Franz.
Youth in Manenberg gamble for small coins at dusk. Ashwin Pietersen, whose family lives in a court adjacent to the Lotterings, and whose three older sisters grew up with Debby and Naomi, was killed in a gang-related incident in December 2014. He is pictured picking up a coin in the middle of the group of young men. Edmond, Ashwin’s cousin, stands to the left of the group, watching for rival gangs.
A member of the Hard Livings gang, one of the oldest and largest gangs in Manenberg, shows his tattoo inspired by American popular culture. The three-story flats, or courts, pictured in the background are the original structures built in Manenberg.
Meezie and Zobie Lottering, Debby’s children, play with their Grandpa Franz in the living room of Franz’s home in Manenberg, where he lives with his third wife and her children. Franz sees his grandchildren almost daily, taking on childcare duties that allow Debby to work longer hours. Since Debby moved out of her dad’s home in 2012 seeking more space for her children, Franz has ridden his bike across town nearly every day to visit her.
Zobie Lottering, Debby’s oldest son, scratches the symbol of the Hard Livings gang — the British Flag — onto his leg. Many parents worry about letting their children play outside because of the danger and influence of the gangs in Manenberg. Some gang members are recruited when they are as young as ten years old.
Debby Lottering helps her oldest son, Zobie, get ready for school in the morning.
Debby Lottering and her son, Meezie, watch as Meezie’s older brother, Zobie, walks to school. In August 2013 all schools in Manenberg were closed after a spike in gang violence that killed nearly 50 people. The gangs often shoot at the same time that kids and adults commute to school and work. Bullet-resistant fences now surround all schools.
A young man who goes by the name X smoking crystal meth. Known as “tik” in South Africa, meth has reportedly become Cape Town’s mostly commonly used drug.
Ashwin Pietersen, nineteen years old and a member of theHard Livings gang, holds up a picture of the star of Four Corners, a movie about gang life in Manenberg. Because of relentless gang violence, Manenberg was declared a danger zone in mid-2015 by the Health Department and ambulances are now not allowed in the area unless escorted by the police.
the mother of Ashwin Pietersen, stands over Ashwin’s body at the viewing in the Pietersens’ living room. Two of Charmaine’s daughters stand at her side. Ashwin was killed in a gang-related shooting two weeks before his twentieth birthday on December 21, 2014.
The Filadelfia Tabernakel Church at night. Pastor Morris, who leads the church, has been in Manenberg since 1975 when his family was relocated there from District Six. Pastor Morris works with many gang members in the area and says, “If you save a gangster’s soul, they won’t hold a gun, they will hold a Bible.”
Debby Lottering’s cousin, Ralph Richards, gathers with neighbors for a prayer meeting at Debby’s home. The group prays for each other, their families, and for their community.
Debby Lottering, right, and her older sister, Naomi, in the living room of their childhood home in Manenberg.
Meezie Lottering, Debby’s youngest son, at home in Manenberg on the bed he shares with his mother and two siblings.
Moonrise in Manenberg, captured from the second floor of Debby Lottering’s home, which is nearly identical to the duplex pictured. Debby Lottering, says of her lifelong home, “When I was young I was a nervous wreck. A loud bang or something would freak me out, but you see now that I’ve grown, I’ve gotten used to the sound of the bullets and the gunshots. The violence and the gangsterism is affecting our lives, but further than that Manenberg is a very good place to live. Manenberg is a peaceful and loving place. It’s a loving community.”
Sarah Stacke is an American photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Her personal work is dedicated to developing intimate stories about people living in under-resourced and narrowly represented communities created by intersections of culture, history, and geography.
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