Night patrols in Lavender Hill

It is Friday night in Lavender Hill. Dusk is falling. Rene, 13 years old, goes to buy a bag of chips at the shop around the corner. She does not come back. Her family begins to worry. Where is Rene? They start looking, and several neighbors lend a hand. 11 days later, they find Rene. Under a rug, behind a neighbor’s house. Raped. Murdered. 

Lavender Hill is one of South Africa’s most dangerous neighborhoods, a part of Cape Town that both police and social services avoid. Gang activity, rape and murder are commonplace for the people who live there. Lucinda Evans lives in the middle of all this suffering and is a driving force who has dedicated her life to fighting violence. She has opened up her home to protect women and children and confronted authorities as well as gang leaders. With many of years of support and mentoring from Childhood, Lucinda has been able to strengthen and scale up her operations.

Permantent search team

It was Lucinda that people in Lavender Hill turned to the evening Rene disappeared. She mobilized over 1,000 people to join the search. A group of older women who volunteered have now become a permanent search team named after Rene, the Rene Roman Search and Rescue Team. The core group consists of 15 to 20 members who have been trained in first aid and are familiar with the area. They follow a structured search plan to find children as quickly as possible. In addition to search and rescue missions, the volunteers also escort unaccompanied children home after dark and carry out night patrols – all in the name of stopping children from being abducted, raped and murdered.  When we at Childhood asked if there was anything we could do to support the search team, the answer was, “buy high-visibility vests.”  These are the vests they are wearing in the image above. They work both as protection and as a uniform, since they make the team easy to identify when they knock on doors in the neighborhood.

In 2018, the Rene Roman Search and Rescue Team was called out to look for children on six occasions. They found five of them safe and sound, and helped them home. A six-year-old girl was found dead after being missing for nine hours.  The team and Lucinda have also helped start search and rescue teams in two other dangerous neighborhoods.

Text: Åsa Andreasson Åkerström, photo: Ulrikah Reihs