MANY of Bokmakierie's residents are afraid. Gangsterism and substance abuse are rife in the area, and the problems, they say, seem to be getting worse.
The residents joined ward councillor Charlotte Tabisher and members of the Athlone police to discuss the matter on Thursday last week at a crèche in Bokmakierie Street. Residents spoke up, saying that the "problem starts at home", where many children suffer as a result of of social and domestic problems.
Said Tabisher, "These children go to school, where they misbehave and become problematic children in the school".
This, she said, leads to high numbers of expulsions and drop-outs.
One of the community members present said he recently visited the area's primary schools, and was shocked to see the state they were in.
Pages of books had been chewed up and spat against the walls, he said, leaving the schools in a "disgusting state". The resident added that when the teachers reprimand the learners, the learners get upset and "stand chest to chest" with the teacher.
The resident went on to say that there is a "growing problem" with youths who wander the streets, turning to gangsterism, drugs, alcohol and other crimes. Tabisher blamed the problem on a "huge lack" of extramural activities, and feels the introduction of more social activities could curb the attraction to gangsterism.
Superintendent Helgard Grundling, the Visible Policing head for the Athlone police station, said schools should link up with the area's sector commander. The sector commander sees to the needs of a school in his sector and provides motivational speakers; he also follows up when children don't arrive at school. "This lessens the load for the teacher, who already has a lot to do."
Grundling said he was shocked at how many young children run around in the early hours of the morning. "Parents need to start making rules, and see that their children are inside much earlier. We need to engage the parents more."
Grundling felt neighbours should look out for each other more.
Another resident spoke up on gang fighting in the area. "Things are very bad because of the power struggle between the G-Unit, Money Hunters and Stupas gangs. We hear gun shots at least twice a week, and it involves my neighbours, so it's hitting very close to home."
He says the community will be having a soccer tournament this weekend, and he fears the gangs will disrupt the festivities.
But, said the resident, the community is compiling a list of all the problematic characters that the "police should monitor and arrest".
In response, Captain André Venter, spokesperson for the Athlone police, says, that "any information" the police receive from the community "will be taken seriously". Another meeting will soon be held between Tabisher, the Athlone police, and community members to discuss potential actions.