Gang Town: How do we solve the gangsterism problem in the Cape

In order to smoke gangsterism out of the Western Cape, an integrated approach involving everyone, more especially parents is needed, writes YONELA DIKO 

Besides the state of our politics and economy, which is in itself affecting the country’s mood and disposition, one cannot rid themselves of the deep sense that the country is in danger somehow.

That with each senseless act of violence – on women, on children, along racial lines, cannibalism – that old demons are driving us into an abyss.

If only we were better citizens, better brothers to one another, we would prevent the fall.

The evil cabal has already caught our youth, unemployed and vulnerable. They are swelled by gangs, drugs, crime, driven into different gang tribes, speaking a different tongue.

One could be my friend, one of them could be my brother, one of them could be me. Young people, walking the streets, full of inarticulate resentments, and desperate to prove their place in the world.

What is happening in our townships, in our schools, particularly in the Western Cape, proves that South Africa’s past remains an open sore.

As South Africans, we thought that after 1994 we could start over. But now we know you can never really start over. Nadine F. Bowers Du Toit, writing for HTS theological studies says: “The discourse of gangsterism is power and powerlessness which serves as its lifeblood”. She sees gangsterism as a pandemic that is closely tied to a deprivation trap of poverty, marginalisation, isolation, unemployment and, ultimately, powerlessness.

In 2014, 18% of all murders in Cape Town were gang-related. That speaks to children killed in the crossfire and gangsters who killed each other.

According to media reports at the time, Mitchells Plain had the highest number of gang murders, followed by Bishop Lavis, Delft, Elsie’s River and Philippi. That same year, Police in Cape Town confiscated R122-million worth of drugs, and 460 000 litres of alcohol.

Throughout the period‚ Cape Town had the highest rate of crime detected through police actions‚ increasing steeply between 2005/06 until 2011/12. This increase was largely a result of the rise in drug-related crime.

According to the report compiled by members of the Urban Safety Reference Group (USRG), today, Cape Town has double the murder rate when compared to other cities and has seen its murder rate rise since 2009/10 and increasing by 40% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.

The Provincial and City governments of the Cape would have been expected to overthrow the inherited value system of National Party which created a tale of two cities. The expectation would have been for any government post 94 not to legitimize itself to the very white society that had governed us, by affirming the values of a divided society we inherited, and to govern by its maxim. All our problems, including drugs, crime, gangs trace their history to apartheid spatial planning and sowing of black on black violence.

But country duty however demands that change must be a collective responsibility. It is us who must tell government that they don’t have to do it alone. We will all share the load.

Where do we begin. Don Pinnock, writing on gangs in the Western Cape, argues that one of the reasons why the youth easily identify with street gangs is that the associations fulfils the need for a rite of passage from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. He argues that the traditional society provided support and a sense of direction to young people graduating to adulthood. Pinnock said in 1996: “Gangsters create structures and rituals that work for them, carve their names into the ghetto walls and the language of popular culture, arm themselves with fearsome weapons and demand at gun-point what they cannot win with individual respect”.

In many ways, we lose our boys right at the beginning, at the gates of our schools. Who is at the gates of our schools? Who is there to guide the young boys that are indulging the blood rush of a high school brawl?

Our high school boys, with the swagger, walk into classrooms drunk or high knowing that the teachers will smell stench of beer or weed coming from their mouth – just daring them to say something.

Maybe some of us cannot Identify with this kind of male unruliness. Most of us spent our younger years in more forgiving places than Nyanga or Bonteheuwel.

Boys in those neighbourhoods have no margins of error – they carry guns because they live in a world that has shut out sympathy. Their unruly maleness is both a survival and a claim to authority.

But we all have a stake in creating order in our neighborhoods and our schools. Our boys must be rescued from being objects of fear or derision.

It is also true that at the community level, gang-related crime is most closely associated with lower income and unemployment. It is also linked to unstable family arrangements and domestic abuse, which pushes young boys to spend more time in the streets than at home.

We must acknowledge all these elements as part of a comprehensive plan to rid our communities of gangsterim, drugs and crime. We must also acknowledge that there exists are disconnect between us and our boys and that we are living by different codes.

What is needed are new role models, new institutions that give our boys validation and hope, people they can look up to in similar environments making different choices.

If we cannot see the fight against gangsterism as a collective problem, it will be with us much longer than it should.

Diko is a Economics graduate and a politics commentator. 



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