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Gangsterism / Violence

  1. Gangsterism in South African Schools
  2. Where do gangs come from?
  3. TIPS for parents
  4. Risks and signs that your child may be involved in a gang
  5. How to help prevent your child becoming a gang member
  6. Gangsterism – TIPS for schools
  7. Resources /references
  8. Contacts for parents

Violence in or around schools is one of the most important issues facing young people in South Africa today.  Its importance goes beyond the immediate physical harm that can result for the learner, or the psychological harm attached to either direct or indirect victimisation. Research shows that the effects of school violence have a very serious long term impact (Burton. & Leoschut, 2013). Violence has gradually shifted from bullying, to much more serious forms of violence. There have been several incidents at schools, where students have been killed with swords, axes, knives, guns, scissors as well as reports of assault and rape.

Results of direct and indirect violence at schools:

  • learners do not attend school because they are scared or they are trying to avoid the violence
  • victims struggle to concentrate on their school work and their grades drop
  • they sometimes drop out of school (both victims and perpetrators)
  • non-attendance or dropping out ultimately results in poor employability potential, i.e. leads to increased levels of unemployment and poverty

Schools that have a presence of gangs have a higher violent victimization rate than those that do not have a gang presence, and teenagers who are gang members are far more likely to commit serious and violent crimes than other teenagers (Huizinga 1997: 1).

There are three main types of gangs:

  • scavenger gangs’ members are often low achievers or school dropouts
  • territorial gangs are well-organized, and gang members have initiation rites and means of identification (such as tattoos, or certain types/colours of clothing) which separate them from non-members. New members often have to prove their loyalty to the group by fighting
  • corporate gangs are highly structured criminal conspiracies that are organized to sell drugs – teenagers as young as fourteen could become members. All gangs have names and recognizable symbols

Socio-economic conditions such as unemployment, low-income employment and poor living conditions lead to poverty and deprivation, creating unhappiness and loneliness. These circumstances often lead to the development of gangs because being part of gang makes the members feel important almost like part of a “family” that are just like them. These children are often poor learners, underachievers, or have language difficulties (The Portfolio Committee on Education 2002).

External influences

  • living in poverty can make people feel like they have no control or power. The frustration can lead them to use violence, rape and other forceful acts to show power and make them feel like they are in control
  • violent games and TV shows can make violence look like it is a normal way to behave
  • being exposed (directly or indirectly) to violence at home or in the community can also increase violence at schools

Internal Influences 

  • the use of inappropriate, ineffective and illegal forms of discipline, such as corporal punishment, sets bad examples for both learners and educators
  • some educators believe that because they are in a position of power they are entitled to abuse learners or to expect sexual favours from learners in exchange for good grades
  • prejudice and discrimination based on disability, gender, race and sexual orientation can often be factors that lead to violent behaviour
  • early childhood deprivation may lead to emotional problems which children hope to remediate by joining a gang where they feel a sense of belonging

In all cases, it is important to remember that school violence in South Africa today must be understood with reference to the country’s legacy of political struggle, as well as the associated economic disadvantage and social inequality. Pahad & Graham, Department of Psychology, Wits (Chapter17)

As a parent, responsibility for a child begins at home. A stable, loving environment that is based on mutual love, respect, and trust is the best foundation for a child.

Children are motivated to join a gang for a variety of reasons including:

  • to feel a sense of belonging
  • for status / to feel important or powerful
  • to protect themselves / to feel safe
  • to make money
  • giving in to peer pressure
  • because other family members are in gangs

Parents must stay vigilant to keep their children away from gangs.

Risks and signs that your child may be involved in a gang

Children who are at risk of gang involvement:

  • often grow up in an area with heavy gang activity
  • have a family member in a gang
  • suffer from low self-esteem
  • have too much unstructured or unsupervised free time
  • are exposed to violence and abuse within the home and/or community
  • have poor emotional attachments to parents from an early stage of development

Parents should engage with their child and seek help if they see them:

  • displaying specific symbols on personal items or tattoos that are known to represent a particular gang
  • having unexplained money or goods
  • carrying a weapon
  • withdrawing from family
  • getting in trouble with the police
  • coming home with unexplained physical injuries

How to help prevent your child becoming a gang member  LINK to below

Spend quality time with your child. If the family is the source of love, guidance, belonging and protection that youth seek, they are not forced to search for these basic needs from a gang.

  • stay in touch with your child’s world and let him or her know that you care
  • give him or her affection
  • build a trusting relationship by being consistent, dependable, and truthful
  • try to really listen to your child, offer praise when appropriate, and take an interest in their hobbies
  • be a good observer of their behaviour and what influences them
  • give your child things to do at home – having reasonable chores and appropriate responsibilities has been linked to success in adulthood
  • make them feel important as part of the family
  • give your child a sense of purpose which will build their self-esteem (making it less likely for them to seek gang activities to reinforce their self-esteem)
  • challenge your child to expand her/his or interests
  • teach your children to share, compromise and take turns

Be a positive role model

  • set the right example
  • take a firm stand against illegal activity
  • never accept money or gifts that may have been obtained illegally
  • report all crimes
  • do not use drugs
  • discuss the issue of gangs with your child – find real-life examples that show how damaging a life of gangsterism is
  • discuss choices and responsibility
  • do not allow your children to wear, write, or gesture any gang-associated graffiti, markings, signs, or symbols

Take action in your neighbourhood, such as creating a neighbourhood alliance or removing graffiti.

  • graffiti removal reduces the chance that crimes will be committed
  • since gangs use graffiti to mark their turf, advertise themselves, and claim credit for a crime, quick removal is essential

Be engaged in your child’s world

  • get involved in his or her school activities
  • know your child’s friends and their families
  • closely monitor where your child is and what they are doing

Get your child involved in extracurricular activities. Youth involved in such activities are less likely to seek membership in a gang.

Afterschool programs with positive messages and adult supervision help build a sense of self-worth and self-respect in young people.

  • sports
  • art
  • dancing, singing, music
  • community organisations
  • religious groups
  • animal welfare

Praise your child when she or he demonstrates responsibility.  Positive reinforcement of any actions your child takes to show responsibility will encourage them to continue the behaviour. Never underestimate the power of a compliment. Children need to know that you notice when they do something right, and not just when they make a poor choice.

Establish and maintain boundaries.  Provide your children clear and firm rules and expectations, so that they are aware of the consequences of their actions. This only works if you are consistent, and don’t give in or give up just because your child makes a fuss or promises to behave. You must see the consequence through to see the behaviour change.

Encourage educational success. Young people who successfully participate in and complete their education have greater opportunities to develop into successful adults, through:

  • a strong education
  • good study habits
  • workforce training

These are directly related to a young person’s positive development.

Teach your child positive life-skills. You can learn together about handling peer pressure, resolving conflict, and solving problems – your child is less likely to become gang members, be bullied, or become a victim with these skills.

Explain the consequences of gang involvement. Make sure your child knows you don’t want to see him or her hurt or in juvenile detention.  Explain to your child that he or she:

  • will live in fear of getting caught, killed or going to jail
  • will be forced to choose the gang over his or her friends and family, to hurt innocent people, and to engage in criminal activity that can ruin his or her future
  • will be exposed to violence, drugs, and inappropriate  or even violent sexual behaviour
  • will be exposed to HIV* and other STIs*
  • will be vulnerable. Gangs demand loyalty. Members talk about being part of a family, but they can turn their backs on each other in a second
  • will earn very little regardless of how big a role they took in getting the money. Gang leaders take the largest cut of all profits
  • will probably end up with a criminal record. This mean they will always have difficulty getting a job, leaving the country, or voting
  • will never feel good about her or himself

If your child is already in a gang get professional help to get your child out of the gang. Generally, young people won’t do it for their parents or because it’s the right thing. They must want to get out of the gang themselves. To have that internal motivation, they must see hope in their future.

Adapted from:

 8 Ways to Keep Your Teen Out of Gangs


TIPS for schools

A well-ordered school is also a less violent school. Basic levels of good management, school effectiveness and teacher professionalism in South African schools need to be increased. To combat Gangsterism and violence, parents, schools and teachers, communities police, counsellors, NGOs and the Department of Social Development need to get together and work diligently with young people, giving them the tools necessary to become non-violent individuals. Schools that experience problems of violence need an active safety and security committee that monitors violence; recommends violence prevention measures; and oversees its implementation.

When stakeholders work together they will provide a safe and a conducive for environment in which learners can be nurtured to become responsible citizens, through the following:

  • schools should provide comprehensive awareness programmes and promote peaceful and cooperative engagement
  • schools should educate learners, educators and parents about the forms of violence prevalent in schools and alternatives to violent behaviour
  • schools could conduct awareness seminars and workshops on school violence
  • learners should be taught to tolerate others through teamwork during lessons
  • If boys or girls have been found to be perpetrators of school violence, young learners or victims should be encouraged to report offenders to the school authorities
  • any learner found bullying other learners should be disciplined by the school. The school should make the parents aware of their child’s bullying* before the child is suspended from classes
  • to protect schools against gangs and vandalism, personnel should be employed to monitor entrances to schools
  • any teachers found using corporal punishment* on learners should undergo a disciplinary process since corporal punishment is banned in South African schools
  • entrance and exit access points to a school need to be minimised to reduce the chances of strangers entering the school grounds freely

Adapted from:

The nature, causes and effects of school violence in South African high schools

South African Journal of Education

Gangsterism as a Cause of Violence in South African Schools: The Case of Six Provinces. Vusi Mncube & Nomanesi Madikizela-Madiya

Gangs and young people | NSPCC

Gangsterism and your child Retrieved from

Mncedisi, M.C., & Mabunda, P.L. (2014). Gangsterism: Internal and External Factors Associated with School Violence in Selected Western Cape High Schools. Retrieved from

Mncube, V., & Madikizela-Madiya, V. Gangsterism as a Cause of Violence in South African Schools: The Case of Six Provinces. Journal of Sociology and Social Anthropology: Vol 5, No 1 Abstract retrieved from

Ncontsa   V.N., &  Shumba, A (2013)  The nature, causes and effects of school violence in South African high schools. Retrieved from

Pinnock, Don. Gang Town (Kindle Locations 4874-4883). Tafelberg. Kindle

Prevent Gang Membership|Youth Violence|Violence Prevention|CDC. Retrieved from

Why Young People Join Gangs and What You Can Do. Retrieved from

8 Ways to Keep Your Teen Out of Gangs Retrieved from

8 Ways to Instil Accountability in Teens Retrieved from

Contacts for parents

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