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Gangsterism and the impact on our children | Is there hope for escape from Cape Town’s gang life for our children?

Dec 07, 2021

Shakirah Hunter

Ex-gangsters use prayer to spread messages of nope

 

Usually when one receives news about gangsterism there is always this association with fear, death, and the negative impact that members of gangs have on society. We constantly look at gangsters as being hardened criminals and once they have chosen the gang life, they never want to leave or change their lives in any way.

The death of several children caught in the crossfire of gang violence in the Western Cape has again puts the spotlight on this scourge. There are as many as 130 gangs in Cape Town, with the tightest grip on those parts of the city where poverty and insecurity have pushed an estimated 100-thousand young men and women into a struggle over identity, interpersonal grievances, and drug turf. These kinds of facts and figures tend to skew our understanding of the gang lifestyle.

Researcher and consultant Dariusz Dziewanski has written a book on gangsterism, ‘Gang Entry and Exit in Cape Town’ in which he tells the stories of gangsters who got out of the life – and managed to stay out. In an effort to break down the usual narrative of gang members as hardened criminals he lived in Cape Town and focused his PhD research on gangsterism -but with a different take. His book serves to subvert the narrative that once you have joined a gang there is no way out. In the media gangs usually are depicted as ‘blood in blood out” – with a lifelong dedication to this way of life. But during his research, he has found a positive lining for parents and family members who have lost loved ones to the gang lifestyle.

Whilst there are many who join gangs and become committed to the cause, there are equally as many members who after joining the gang lifestyle tend to question this lifestyle and are motivated to quit the gang and make a positive change in their lifestyle choices. Lack of meaningful empmloyment and a sense of disillusion with the ‘drug bosses’ lifestyle, quickly highlight to the gang members that without gainful employment life is incredibly difficult. Furthermore, constant conflict with law enforcement and the sudden loss of family support drive members to question their loyalty. Disenchantment with the lifestyle is one of the greatest motivating factors for leaving a gang.

Once the gang member decides to leave the gang, surprisingly enough ,Dziewanski highlights that as incredibly difficult as it is to get out of the gang – the challenges are not so much from one’s own gang, but rather from rival gang members. Old infractions with rival members can hinder the change of lifestyle but added to this they are often met with skepticism from their own families who doubt their desire to change. Once they make the decision to leave, the difficulty in finding meaningful and steady employment as well as expunging their records prove to make leaving gang life a huge challenge.

Once gang members make the decision to leave there are three main factors that Dziewanski highlights in his book. Meaningful employment, a support from family members and a support from religious structures assist gang members to exit gangs and to successfully stay out. This is truly a message for hope for our community members to provide support systems that allow us to move away from judging ex-gang members and motivating change in their lives through a dedicated support structure. Religious structures play a massive role in allowing gang members to successfully re-integrate into society.

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