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Gangsterism / Violence

  1. About Gangsterism and violence
  2. How you will be recruited
  3. Finding healthy alternatives – what could you do instead?

As a young person living in South Africa, you may see violence in your home, your neighbourhood and your school. Bullying happens but it has grown into even scarier kinds of violence where young people use weapons such as knives, scissors and even guns to hurt and kill other children. Often these young people are part of a gang.

Children are also sometimes invited to join gangs at a very early age and it can be very hard to say no. Sometimes they feel they have no choice.

Lots of children think that joining a gang would be cool. Being part of a gang sounds exciting and the members seem to be like a group of friends that protect each other.  Your friends or even members of your own family might be gang members and it might look like they are powerful and strong. If you not part of a group, not doing too well at school and feel lonely and left out, joining a gang may seem like a good way to make friends, to feel like you belong, and to feel safe.

You need to know some real facts to help you avoid becoming a member of a gang.  These facts are:

  • you will be used by the gang and could become part of a violent and dangerous life of crime, abusing drugs and alcohol and hurting people
  • it will be very hard, and dangerous, to leave once you are part of a gang
  • gangs fight amongst themselves and fight with other gangs
  • they use dangerous weapons like guns and knives and axes to kill each other and other people
  • new members are also often forced to rape, hurt or even kill someone else
  • the members may be forced or pressured to sell drugs and alcohol and often get addicted themselves
  • most of the money made from sex or drugs will be taken by the gang leader
  • the new members, both boys and girls are often forced to have sex for money (sex work / prostitution) which is very dangerous – they can be raped, beaten, infected with STIs LINK or fall pregnant LINK
  • if you get caught for any of these crimes, you might be sent to a juvenile detention centre or prison and you will have a criminal record forever. This means you will always have problems getting work, and will not be able to get a passport for travelling to other places

You might be at risk for being recruited (invited) or pressured into a gang if:

  • you are unhappy or struggling in any way
  • you don’t feel good about yourself (low self-esteem)
  • you are between the ages of 10 and 16
  • a family member is already part of a gang
  • you come from a poor family
  • you have no parents/ caregivers
  • you are neglected
  • you are abused by a family member
  • you are bullied and the gang offers protection
  • you have lots of unsupervised time, and feel like there is nothing to do
  • your caregiver is unemployed
  • you have learning difficulties / not doing too well at school
  • you use substances (including alcohol, dagga, nyaope, tik, cocaine, or mandrax)
  • the values that are learned at home or from your community are negative and destructive (lack of respect for others or for the law, violence, not taking responsibility, etc)

Adapted from
Mncedisi, M.C., & Mabunda, P.L. (2014)

  • with promises of “brotherhood” and protection
  • through fear and intimidation (threats)
  • through being offered money to do small favours
  • through peer pressure (fear of being left out)
  • by being challenged to take a risk
  • being told that if you get caught the worst thing that can happen is that you will be placed in a juvenile facility for two years – no matter what they tell you, this is NOT fun, and it does matter; it is a big price to pay for belonging.

It’s hard to say no when someone wants you to join their group, even if they are gangsters.  When there is not much to do, you can get bored – making it easy for gang members to give you things to do. But, there are lots of other, healthy things for you to do – find something that is exciting and interesting to you.


Some ideas.

  • if you enjoy singing – find a choir or a band to join, or start one
  • if you enjoy acting – join an acting club or start one
  • if you enjoy art – find an art club or start one; go online and be inspired by other artists doing amazing things
  • if you enjoy dancing – organise a dance competition / ”dance-off”
  • join or start a sports team – soccer, netball, basketball, or even chess!
  • start a small food garden using seeds from your own kitchen (there are lots of YouTube videos to help you) – it could grow into a community project
  • if you love animals – help out at the nearest animal rescue or SPCA
  • volunteer as a helper – crèches, clinics, old age homes, shelters and churches always need help and you will be amazed at how good you feel about yourself after helping others
  • food factories, shops, restaurants might need junior waiters or delivery people. If you are 16 or older, earn some pocket money this way. By trying a few jobs out, you can get to know what interests and excites you, and what you are good at. Plus, you can add the experience to your CV and get references, which will increase your chances of getting other jobs
  • keep trying and phone Childline for support 116
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