A Manenberg community activist wants to make this Christmas a memorable one for underprivileged children by handing out toys and party packets.
Magadien Wentzel, a once-feared leader of a prison gang, has turned his back on crime and got involved with projects to help deter young people from making the wrong choices.
He said that after spending 25 years in prison and coming back to see the condition of his community, he needed to get involved to make the change in his life complete.
“It is sad that children have to pay the brunt for choices their parents made. I saw too many things in the community I came back to. There is so much lacking. In 2006, I decided to start with the Christmas toys initiative, because what I witnessed the year before, broke my heart. I was visiting my grandchildren on Christmas Day in 2005. I saw some children play outside with their new toys they received as gifts. Other children, who were not so fortunate to get a toy, were running after the ones who did. All they wanted to do was to touch the toys. This broke my heart,” Mr Wentzel said.
He added that many children in Manenberg were being neglected.
“The images I see on a daily basis, include illegal gambling on street corners by young people. The younger children would sit on the pavements because there is nothing at home.
“The mother, for example, is unemployed and the father is an alcoholic. When the methamphetamine drug came out,
it just exacerbated the situation. I know all about neglect. I was given away at only four days old.”
Where he once would recruit those illegal gamblers into his gang, Mr Wentzel would rather now see them in a programme to enhance their lives.
He was part of the implementation of the Peace Ambassadors in Hanover Park and he dreams of winning the fight against gangsterism one day.
“People still have the perception that if you are from an area like Manenberg, Hanover Park, Bonteheuwel or Heideveld, that you are ultimately involved with gangs. I want to change that. Despite the challenges, there is so much good in our communities.
“In order to make my change complete, I had to change myself, my environment, as well as the values, principles, and the behaviour system of my community,” he said.
Over the years, Mr Wentzel received toy donations from many people, but the tough economic climate has made it difficult for some to continue. He has appealed for any toy donation, lollipops and packets of chips.
Last year, he was able to help 150 children and he hopes he can top that this year.
The toys he’s looking for don’t needed to be expensive. Good-quality second-hand toys were also welcomed, he said.
Call Mr Wentzel at 065 596 8372 if you want to help.