On 7 February a teenage Khayelitsha girl, Siyamthanda Mdunyelwa, was hit by a train while crossing the railway at about 7:30pm in order to escape from the police who were breaking up a gang fight.
This story was updated with additional information supplied by the police a couple of hours after it was originally published.
Bongi Zolala, a resident of D-section, witnessed the incident. A gang fight was taking place with boys throwing bricks and stones at each other. Girls were standing behind the boys cheering them on. The police came to break up the fight. According to Zolala, "The group of girls was standing behind a large number of boys by the bridge. When the police van came the girls scattered and ran towards the railway line in fear of the police van. As they were crossing the tracks one girl fell and as she was getting up it was too late, the train hit her." Zolala added that the police notified the ambulance who arrived on the scene 30 to 45 minutes later.
Recently, the bridge at D-section has become a gangster playground. This is where the "Vato", "Locos" and "Vura" gangs have their daily fallouts. The girls call themselves "Vato babes" or "Vura babes" and are the cheerleaders of the fights. The ages of the young girls range from 13-19 years. These fights take place almost every weekday. On 24 January we filmed one of these gang fights which you can see in the following youtube video.
Mdunyelwa was hit by the train at the same spot where the video was filmed. She was hospitalised but died on Friday 8 February.
Riana Scott from the Metrorail Marketing and Communication department said, "Metrorail regrets to confirm that a 15-year-old girl was struck by a train yesterday evening (Thursday 7 February). The incident was reported at 19:47 and occurred between Nonkqubela and Nolungile Stations. Several youngsters were reportedly fighting next to the railway tracks; spotted an oncoming police vehicle and sprinted across the tracks in front of the oncoming train. Lingulethu Police attended to the incident." Metrorail has got the stations wrong; the incident occurred between Khayelitsha and Nonkqubela stations.
Metrorail regional manager Mthuthuzeli Swartz expressed his deep regret and shock at the incident: "Our hearts go out to the family - as a parent I am devastated that a young life was lost so needlessly."
Swartz said that fatalities are extremely traumatic for Metrorail staff, "Even a train traveling at slow speed will require 500 metres to stop under emergency conditions and train drivers are powerless to prevent the accident about to happen. We always recommend trauma counseling."
The South African Police Service (SAPS), in an email to GroundUp, explained that they have taken various measures to stop the gang fights including meeting with parents. SAPS have also launched 'Operation Khusela iKhayelitsha' (Operation Protect Khayelitsha) which involves about 100 police officers patrolling affected parts of Khayelitsha to prevent the gang fights. Captain FC Van Wyk wrote, "[P]olice commenced with a softer approach towards this problem as youngsters were involved, but will now follow a zero tolerance approach during these operations in order to make Khayelitsha a safe and secure area for all its residents. In order to maintain law and order, individuals or groups who commit any form of crime will be arrested immediately and will have to face the full force of the law. It is believed that youngsters are of the opinion that they are exempted as a result of their age (under 18). This is not true."