Dreams shattered, lives cut short: Westbury community fearful of vengeful gangsters

SowetanLive documentary looks at the victims of shootings

07 November 2023 - 13:49
By Noxolo Sibiya

Just days after returning from Scotland where he obtained his coaching licence badges, Evans Severriano Oakes was shot dead in Westbury. 

His dream of becoming, a world-renowned football coach would never be realised. Oakes, 29, a coaching science graduate, wanted to uplift his community through sports and recreation. But his life was taken in November last year when he was ambushed and killed. 

His killers are still at large. He is one of the victims of alleged gang violence in Westbury that continues to claim the lives of young people with bodies piling up, according to locals.

Before his death, Oakes had promised his mother a dream house. He was due to complete his third coaching qualification, which would have seen him fly to the Netherlands this year.  

“He was very involved in soccer within the community. He inspired many of our boys within the community. This year he was supposed to leave for the Netherlands to complete his B soccer coaching licence, which is higher than Safa’s,” said a relative who asked not to be named.

Oakes’ story is but one of several senseless killings highlighted in a short documentary by my colleague Thulani Mbele and I [Noxolo Sibiya], who have been tracking the ongoing violence in the community.

A gang sign relating to the Varados is seen on a wall in Westbury extension 3.
Image: Thulani Mbele A gang sign relating to the Varados is seen on a wall in Westbury extension 3.

According to residents of Westbury, the violence is believed to be between two gangs, the Fast Guns and the Varados. While the historical inception of the rivalry was over drug territory, locals said the current war was vengeance by children whose parents were killed during previous turf wars. 

A hand gesture resembling the signs of either one of the gangs can be seen as allegiance with the enemy leading to you being the next target on the hit list.

Nearly a year since Oakes’ death, things have worsened with more killings recorded in the area, including that of a police officer.

On June 10, 12-year-old girl Jaan Fourie was found lying in a pool of blood in the street after she was shot dead. In September, a policeman attached to the anti-gang unit, warrant officer Dalmain Morris, who was investigating her murder, was also killed while taking a statement from a witness. 

Fearful residents refused to be interviewed in fearing they could become the next victims. But off camera some told Sowetan how trying to get by in one’s daily life in the community is difficult. They said going out to a local shop to buy bread had become a perilous journey for some.

Community members said no one was spared in the violence with children as young as 12 also being killed. In the streets women are gunned down and some youngsters are said to carry firearms in broad daylight. 

Religious leaders said their calls for peace had fallen on deaf ears as more people continued to be gunned down, some even inside church premises.

“The community has more firearms than the police station. Police are outnumbered and out-powered. Who are we?” said a religious leader who asked not to be named.

“We hear gunshots every night and we ask, who will we be burying this weekend?”