The townships of the Western Cape are still scarred by the scourge of gangsters. The allure to join a gang is as enticing now as it has always been for the disadvantaged youngsters. For most, many from broken homes, the sense of belonging is more important than the damage they cause to the neighbourhoods they call home.
An initiative by three childhood friends is built on the hope that history will help steer a new generation of kids away from the mean streets. Wandisile Nqeketho, Siyabulela Daweti and Athenkosi Mongo, all products of The Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development, are using the stories of former gangsters to demystify the lifestyle.
Their initiative – 18 Gangster Museum – based in Khayelitsha offers hopes to change the path of township kids and help rehabilitate those already caught up in the cycle of violence that is gang life.
Nqeketho said: “18 Gangster Museum will pre-emptively mitigate gang affiliation through education. It will be curated by ex-gangsters and the museum will provide reformation for ex- gangsters by offering them a second chance to give back to their community and educate future generations about the consequences of gangsterism.”
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
In 2013, 12% of the 2 580 murders in the Western Cape were gang-related according to the South African Police Service. This is an 86% increase from 2012. In addition, children as young as 14 are being arrested on gang-related murder charges.
The trio of entrepreneurs – they run a successful cleaning and recycling business called Ilima Cleaning and Recycling – believe the 18 Gangster Museum can evolve into a full-fledged academy, designed to reform ex-gangsters into powerful educators who help eradicate gangsterism in the township through sharing their own experiences and stories.
Right now they are using the initiative as a mobile museum while they search for funds and a building to have a permanent exhibition housed there.
“We have been around the different townships of the Western Cape like Gugulethu, Khayelitsha, Manenberg and Hanover Park that are rife with gangsterism and we were well received by the community,” said Nqeketho.
According to Nqeketho they are self-funding the project. They also received a R250 000 grant from the SAB Foundation after winning an entrepreneurial pitch competition.
The trio also hosted a book reading competition for primary schools in the township of Khayelitsha in 2014 where the best school won a R10 000 book voucher and a free computer course from Mbele Social Concepts for six months.
EDUCATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Daweti believes that education is the best and most sustainable route for any kid hoping to escape the townships. “If we want to create a gang free society, a safe society we must start developing the young with good quality education. Start skilling them at a tender age that lowers the chances of having to see them going to gangs,” said Daweti.
GANGSTERISM IN THE WESTERN CAPE
According to criminologist Don Pinnock, in his 1997 book Gangs, Rituals, & Rites of Passage, the Apartheid relocation of coloured and black people from the Cape Town inner city to the Cape Flats and surrounding townships had a powerful effect on those relocated. The social dislocation nurtured conditions for the burgeoning street gangs of the early 1980s to thrive.
Suburbs on the Cape Flats such as Manenberg, Elsies River and Parkwood have deeply entrenched, decades-old gang structures. And there are now fledgling gangs forming in the townships of Khayelitsha and Nyanga, according to the Daily Maverick.
There are 12 recognised street gangs and three prison gangs in the Western Cape, according to the SAPS. However smaller cliques rise up and die every day, an estimate from the early nineties lists the total number of gangs in Cape Town at 130, and gangsters at 100 000, according to Andre Standing in a 2005 Institute of Security Studies policy discussion paper.