Geographically, Turffontien lies a stone’s throw away from Johannesburg CBD. The neatly plotted houses and lush trees are reminiscent of a suburban paradise. Yet, the appeal has long faded. Instead, the years have chipped paint away from the houses, bullet cases litter the streets and spilt blood has seeped into cracks on the pavements. Residents of this place have lost the comfort of safety because this place has transformed into a warzone.

I grew up in Turffontien in the confinement of a house with a low-rise fence which offers a clear view of the incidents unfolding in front of our gate. There is nothing I have not bared witness to, either sitting on the balcony in broad daylight or peeking through the windows at night. Incidents ranging from fights, robberies, drug exchanges, hijacking and on several occasions, attempted murder. At times, we have been at the receiving end of evil intentions. There are nights when thieves have tested our sanity, jumping over our fence, running through our yard, trying to force our doors open and stealing everything they can get their hands on outside. In short, whether I am inside or outside of the house, I never feel safe.

Recently, our neighbours exchanged heated words with a few men living in a make-shift hostel across the street. People spilled out of their houses to watch the drama unfold, others daring to get as close to the action as possible. Children were no exception and they just as eagerly followed their parents into the mayhem. As they were arguing, our neighbour drew a knife from the waistband of his pants to chase one of the opposing men. After a moment of running like cat-and-mouse through the street, the man was caught and tackled on our lawn. Had it not been for the intervention of the audience, he would have been bludgeoned to death. Fortunately, he escaped with minor stab wounds and scratches. The police were called but by the time they arrived, all those involved had disappeared. We all assumed the fight was over or that the street regained peace. However, heavy footsteps, shouts and screams echoed through that night, jerking us awake to the realisation that the fight was still on. By the early morning, two bodies were discovered sprawled-out on the road.

The police went door to door, asking for any scraps of information or for witnesses to come forward. It proved to be a pointless task, nobody came forward and nobody seemed to know anything. The bodies were taken away without further investigation or justice. Everybody went about their business as though nothing had taken place on our street. However, the matter is still discussed in hushed whispers and gossip. People sometimes point to my neighbour and label him a killer, adding that he did not act alone that night. Children re-enact the incident when they play, making cardboard knifes and pretending to stab one another to death. The truth is that everybody on our street knows exactly what happened that night and who the perpetrators are.

A paper on emotional numbness was released by Kennedy and Ceballo in March 2017. It emphasized that severe psychological and psychosocial problems can be observed from urban adolescents (young people) who are overly exposed to community violence. They noted that young people end up with a distorted understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Also, as they grow into adults, they experience difficulty fitting or functioning in a society. Most importantly, they often fail to contribute to a peaceful community for themselves and those around them. Emotional numbness or desensitization was the leading factor linked to community violence exposure. That means a person becomes insensitive, or loses touch with the usual emotional response (of fear, anxiety, or guilt) to stimuli such as danger that violence exposes them to. In short, they become numb.

That is what we have become in this place. A high functioning community of emotionless people who have the potential to kill one another and pretend nothing happened. A cluster of people who cannot tell that this place has become too dangerous to continue living in and cannot fight for change. I remember when I first came to live here as a child, I was prone to nightmares and I was extremely jumpy, because of the things I saw. That eventually went away and I believed it to be a good thing. Yet, like the others in my community who refused to acknowledge the murder of those two men (amongst many other incidents) as the true horror it is, I also treated it like ‘just another day in Turf’. I peacefully slept through the nights that followed after the incident and watched my neighbour walk around as a free man.

Turffontien is just another place on a map, a series of houses and twisting streets occupying a portion of land. The truth, is that the horrific actions of people who have called this place home through the years, have turned it into a warzone. Yet, we are all somehow unbothered by it.

Did you find this interesting? You can read another of Lungile’s articles, The power of choice, here.


Tell us: What do you think about everyday violence – is it something you experience?