In an article entitled “The Making of Shantytown’ local writer Anderson Reynolds paints a picture of the Vieux Fort community that the Kenny Anthony administration had renamed Bruceville (after Bruce Williams) but is still popularly known as Shantytown. According to Reynolds, the community started with one dwelling that went up shortly after Hurricane Allen. Ahead of that, of course, were the 1979 general elections when the St. Lucia Labour Party had a landslide victory after a 15-year drought. Bruce Williams became the SLP’s parliamentary representative for Vieux Fort, inclusive of Shantytown.Daddy Bruce, as he was affectionately known, proposed a housing scheme for Shantytown with the assistance of Salas, the Venezuelan Construction Company that was establishing a business base in Vieux Fort at the time. They set aside twenty or more prefab houses at Daddy Bruce’s request.
“Unfortunately for would-be Shantytown residents, history waits for no project,” Anderson writes. Six months after the 1979 general elections the Labour Party government found itself in a power struggle that had resulted in Castries being renamed, if for a time, Plywood City. Plans for Shantytown were soon forgotten. With the return to office of the UWP in 1982, the Shantytown project was shelved and the area reconsidered as the site for a new hotel.
In the meantime, politicians played political football with Shantytown. Its squalid conditions grew worse, even as its population of squatters increased, aided and abetted by individuals with political aspirations beyond their talents. Shantytown quickly became an open latrine, a hideout from the police, a market for sex.
Fast forward to 2015: Little in Shantytown has changed for the better, despite that for the last 20 years the area’s parliamentary representative has been the nation’s prime minister Kenny Anthony. Save for a “freeness” (a concrete public bath and toilet facility and a four-lane promenade courtesy the Taiwanese that leads straight into a swine-infested garbage dump) Shantytown the new is not all that different from Shantytown before Kenny Anthony’s arrival. Weekly community stories about young men running into trouble with the law for drugs, about incest and teenage pregnancies are commonplace. The STAR has confirmed at least one report of a 14-year-old who earlier this year became a mother—for residents, not at all unusual.
The recent rape of a 16-year-old Shantytown girl may have shocked one or two school principals but for members of the community it’s business as usual. This week I visited the girl’s family. As we talked about the rape incident, the victim stared blankly at me from her wooden perch. Her aunt supplied the following account: “On Sunday night I was home when, around
eleven, her mother came calling me to say her daughter was missing. I found that strange since she was not in the habit of going out at night. So we went searching everywhere in the area and when we could not find her we went to the police station to make a report. By then it was about one in the morning. When we got back to Shantytown we found her near the back of the house. That’s when she told us what had happened to her.”
What had happened, according to the 16-year-old: a young man with whom she is familiar came to the house and offered her a drink. She accepted and soon afterward felt very drowsy. She was carried away to the back of Shantytown, near the beach area, where she was repeatedly raped by at least four men, all known to her. She screamed but someone in the area was playing music too loud to permit her screams to be heard.
Her mother told me that on the night of the incident she herself had left home to visit a friend “down the road.”
When the victim was found, according to relatives, she appeared shaken. They took her to St. Jude’s after reporting to the police. On Monday three men were held for questioning but, hardly surprising, have since been released. Relatives now fear that nothing the 16-year-old, who has a speech impediment, says will be taken seriously.
Her aunt elaborated: “When she was at school her teachers found that she was a little slow and recommended she be transferred to a special education school. But her mother could not afford it. She never received any special attention or an education. She is a bit slow when she speaks but we do understand her.”
The victim spends most of her time at home. Sometimes she does usual errands for her family in the community but since the alleged incident this too has proven difficult.
“I sent her to get a top-up for me on Wednesday,” her aunt told me, “and she came back, saying that she had bumped into one of the boys [one of her alleged rapists] and his friend. They both started taunting her, calling her ‘deck-deck’. She said one of the boys threatened to harm her and another 13-year-old female relative if they do not keep quiet about the incident.”
On Monday, as residents expressed their frustrations, one of the girl’s relatives was punched in the face for pointing out one of the young men who was allegedly involved in the rape.
The family now fears an all-out war is imminent if the police do not investigate the alleged rape and other related incidents. “We feel that we are being discriminated against by not only the politicians but also by the police who hardly ever respond when we call on them,” a male relative said. “But I can assure you that things will get ugly if nothing is done about this rape.”
As I made my way out of the galvanized fenced yard onto the dilapidated road outside, I wondered if things could get uglier than they already are in the community known as Shantytown.