Recently again, I heard rumours of an alleged high-ranking gangster moving into my community, and of how people who had resided in the area for most of their lives were now packing up and trying to sell their homes before a gang war broke out- an inevitability, they thought.Despite a police station situated up the road from where these people live, their faith in the capability of officers to effectively prevent and combat gangsterism and its related activities, was low.
Don Pinnock, in his book ‘Gang Town’ noted that proposed solutions to gangsterism are general, unworkable, and lack analytic precision.
Efforts at combatting gang activity need to have a holistic and integrated analysis that includes much more than the regular response: Lock them up and throw away the key.
My question sparked a conversation about gangs and gangsterism, in general.
On this sunny day, while on our way to pick strawberries in a town that largely remains cushioned in wealth and wealth that remains racially characterised, we lamented the plight of black people whose daily hardships and stories remain absent in the everyday ‘erudite’ discussions about ways to improve South Africa.
We bemoaned the unnecessary loss of lives as a consequence of gang violence, and the scarce mentions their deaths receive in mainstream media.
Gang violence is a troubling issue in South Africa.With the ubiquity of mass communication which, problematically, portrays stereotypical and harmful representations of masculinity, it is of little wonder that manhood is equated with violence, aggression, blind bravery, and unwavering strength.The idealisation of the flashy gangster and prosperous thug life, represented both in urban music and in the homes, is what inspires young boys and men to adopt the attitudes and actions that will too, in their mind, help them overcome adversity and establish their place in society.When I recently took a day trip with my immediate family to a strawberry farm in Stellenbosch, and on our way we passed a grim-looking Chestnut Place.I, being unfamiliar with Belhar on the Cape Flats despite a few of my family members residing in Extension 13, asked my mother to confirm my suspicions: that is where a particular gang and its notorious gang leader lived.With limited spaces of respectability open for boys to enter into, they search for alternative avenues to access respect, attention, and power.To stunt the proliferation of gangs and halt violence in its myriad forms, we must interrogate, challenge, and change ideas of masculinity. Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.Apart from understanding how apartheid has disenfranchised black people, and how its consequences of poverty and unemployment intersect and create gangs, it is imperative to consider and comprehend how ideas about manhood and masculinity impact boys, in particular, and how they perceive gangs, and why the latter appeals to them.Gang violence must be understood within the context of entrenched socio-cultural notions about male superiority and privilege, as well as the social impact and legacy of apartheid, political exclusion, and unemployment on generations of young black men.Furthermore, Cooper noted the marginalisation of these young men who used the gang institution to compensate for the disempowerment of their socio-historical context.The topic of masculinity is one I revisit time and again because it affects the very lives of other, often marginalised identities, and because it is such a long-running enigma for many men.