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  • Writer's pictureBianca Petersen

Surviving in a gang-riddled community

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

At night his dreams are peppered with vivid images of being

kidnapped. 15 years old, but skinny and small for his age, Mohat*

abandons his tik-addict mother with whom he shares a bed in

their cramped living quarters and instead snuggles up to his

grandmother to seek comfort from the dangers that haunt his

dreams. He’s seen it all ... shootings, kidnappings, rapes and

death. This is life in gang-riddled areas ... not in the United States,

but right here on our doorstep in Paarl East.

Mohat dropped out of school at 13 because his classmates made fun of his tik-addict mother. Mohat violently defended her honour and was expelled. Now he does odd jobs to supplement the family’s income and takes care of his sister’s baby while she works. ‘We all live off my grandmother’s pension and seasonal work-income, money my grandfather earns from odd-jobs and my sister’s pay. There’s always food on the table, but it’s not easy.’

He remembers a time when his mother took good care of him, his younger brother and older sister, but that was before she went to jail for shoplifting and became addicted to tik. ‘Now, when I earn some money, I never give her any; I rather buy her something,’ says Mohat.

Valerie** washes other peoples’ clothes to sustain her drug addiction.

Hanlie van der Merwe, Khula branch manager in Paarl says: ‘When life is such a constant battle and a child is faced with such continuous hardship, dropping out of school is almost a guarantee. School drop-out is one of the main perpetuating factors of gangsterism.

For the vulnerable child, the protection of a gang and the sense of belonging provides a substitute family. Children also experience success and acceptance as opposed to the failures they feel at school. In addition, they aspire to the power and control, assumed access to money and expensive branded clothes and cars associated with gangsterism.

‘It is common for small children, when we ask them what they would want to become, to answer: “A gangster!” But sadly, for all its perceived benefits, once accepted into the folds of a gang and its criminal activities, there is no way out.’ Mohat explains: ‘My parents are divorced, and my father is a gang member on the Cape Flats. His own mother had him

arrested and put in a jail for fear of his life from other gang members.’ Hanlie elaborates: ‘If we do not address the perpetuating factors that cause children not to cope in school,

gangsterism will forever remain an enticing alternative – one that does not include attending school and building a life to become a successful adult and breaking the cycle of poverty.’

Poverty, sexual and/or physical abuse and emotional neglect of children, drug abuse, conflict in the home and News

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works”

~ Hebrews 10:24

Surviving in a gang-riddled community overcrowded living conditions constitute the norm in the majority of South African communities. In May 2015, BUSINESSTECH reported the top eight reasons why kids aged 7 to 18 drop out or do not attend


1. No money for school fees – 23.5%

2. Cannot perform academically at school – 17.7%

3. Have too many family commitments – 11.6%

4. Suffer from illness and/or disability – 10.4%

5. See education as being useless – 9.4%

6. Completed education to the level they wanted – 7.8%

7. Working at home – 6.7%

8. Struggle getting to school – 0.5%

The lack of books, large classes, bad facilities, poor teaching, a shortage and the absence of teachers compound these factors and have not changed since 2015. Hanlie concludes: ‘That is why parents play an increasingly important role. They must lead by example. We need male role models to expose children to other alternatives. Parents themselves need to embrace the value of education and impart it to their children. We can no longer rely on the army or government to rid our streets of the devastating effects of gangsterism; we need to clean our own house and provide the safe haven from where our children will have a firm

foundation to confidently live positive and productive lives.’

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