Gangs, a brotherhood-in-arms

Weapons confiscated from young teenage gangsters in Khayelitsha. Photo by Mary-Anne Gontsana.

Mary-Anne Gontsana

27 February 2013

Youth gangs have become a normal occurrence in Khayelitsha.

Gangsterism: the sense of going on an adventure and joining something bigger than yourself. These are the words of Eldred de Klerk, from Africa Analysis who deals with conflict resolution and analysis. Just two weeks ago, GroundUp reported on Siyamthanda Mdunyelwa, who was hit by a train while crossing the railway at about 7:30pm in order to escape from the police who were breaking up a gang fight.

These gangs and gang fights have become the norm in Khayelitsha to the point where some residents now speak about them like they are no big deal. Kuyasa resident Vuyiswa Xapa said gangsterism was still going on but it wasn’t going to stop her from going about her business in the township. “These kids are just naughty and I just don’t know what they want us to do anymore, they just are not willing to listen.”

De Klerk who has worked closely with Irvin Kinnes from the Centre of Criminology, said: “Belonging to a criminal street gang is not a choice, and where it is, it is a choice that is soon regretted and impossible to undo. Once you are accepted into the group, you are bound to the gang for life and often through blood. The more that a young man or woman is willing to exercise violence, determines their order in the gang.

“Much of the open violence we see in the Cape Flats is proxy gangs [smaller gangs working for bigger gangs - editor] fighting the turf, leadership and control battles of the bigger criminal enterprise,” said De Klerk.

He said Khayelitsha remained an extensive wasteland. Dark, damp and filled with disease and with a relatively young disaffected and disillusioned population who are distanced from the rest of Cape Town. “Our municipalities as part of local government are failing to engage all of us in community safety planning. What has come to be labelled “service delivery” protests reflect a lack of public governance, public accountability, public participation and municipalities working to add public value, serve the public good and do so in the public interest.”

Khayelitsha’s Community Policing Forum (CPF) chairperson, Bongani Siko, who was with the police when 21 teenagers were arrested for a gang fight and had their weapons confiscated, said apart from the random fights now and again, it was a bit quiet at the moment. He said they were working together with the South African Police Service and other government departments to help stop the problem of gangsterism.

“The Department of Community Safety organises a camp where we take these youths to a place and they are taught life skills and given talks. It is free and they are provided with transport, accommodation and food. They are taught different things by people such as police and those involved in safety.” The last camp was held last year in December.

“At the moment we are only able to accommodate about 40 youths aged between 10 and 16, we were targeting those that are currently in school. But now we have seen that there is a need for those who are not in school to be part of this programme. As the CPF, we meet every month to discuss ways we can stop our children from joining gangs,” said Siko.