Breaking the cycle of gangsterism in Khayelitsha
GSIYABONGA KAMNQA PICTURES: MEGAN MILLER ANG violence has been part and parcel of Cape Town, particularly the Cape Flats, for as long as anyone can remember.
Gangs like the Americans and the 28s prison gang have wrought havoc in coloured communities here for years, and the violence has since migrated to black townships including Nyanga, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha.
It’s here that rival gangs such as the Vuras and Vatos have come into constant conflict, trapped in a cycle of vengeance that has continued for years.
And while the authorities have taken measures to try and curb the thugs in townships, gangsterism continues to rear its ugly head, claiming many lives.
But two Khayelitsha youngsters are determined to change the face of gangsterism – not only in the Western Cape, but the entire country.
Through their creative initiative, 18 Gangster Museum, Wandisile Nqeketho and Siyabulela Daweti showcase the history of South African gangs and their influence on society. Part of their aim is to deglamorise thug life.
And they are helping to stop gangs from growing: They host exhibitions curated by former gang members and say the project helps them reform. “We are offering exoffenders a second chance to give back to their community and educate future generations about the consequences of gangsterism,” Wandisile says.
The exhibitions mainly target schools and communities affected by gangsterism and started last year, Wandisile and Siyabulela are self-funding the project, but they got a much-needed financial boost recently in the form of a R250 000 grant from the SAB Foundation after winning an entrepreneurial pitch competition.
They currently work with eight former gang-associated inmates who share their stories with the community. “They were detained for crimes ranging from murder and attempted murder to robbery, and spent a number of years in jail,” Wandisile adds. “But they are all reformed now and want to spread the message to the youth that gangs and crime don’t pay.”
GROWING up in Khayelitsha, Wandisile ( 27), a former student of The Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development, was surrounded by gangs. “I grew up in an environment where it was normal to hear gunshots every night. As a youngster, I was used to it.”
Khayelitsha continues to be among the townships most notorious for high crime rates in South Africa, with 369 murders reported in the last year alone according to latest crime stats.
But Wandisile believes the solution lies with the community, particularly parents.“In every section of our townships everyone knows someone who’s a skollie (gangster),” he says. “And when crime takes place chances are that the community knows who the perpetrators are.
“But people are scared because gangs are untouchable and it is well known that they don’t think twice about wiping out those who stand in their way.”
As in many other townships, Wandisile says there are lots of broken families in Khayelitsha. “Many fathers are absent in the lives of their boy children and as a result, most youngsters lack that fatherly guidance in their lives,” he explains.
“That’s why it becomes easy for bad elements within the community to take over, and then these youngsters are led in the wrong direction.”
According to Siyabulela (27), many Khayelitsha youth trapped in a cycle of crime desperately want to change their ways, but it’s not easy, “because once you get in it can be difficult to get out”.
This is why they named their initiative 18 Gangster Museum: boys come of age at 18, which is usually when they’re most