Break­ing the cy­cle of gang­ster­ism in Khayelit­sha

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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

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