A Bonteheuwel man who turned his back on a life of crime wants to help young people from making the same mistakes he made.
Andre Esau, 43, a former gangster who is on parole, says he is grateful for a second chance and wants to use this opportunity not only to restore his own life, but to help others. Mr Esau served 12 of his 33-year sentence for armed robbery and murder and was released on parole in June last year.
He was only 12 years old when he was drawn into gangsterism – all because he wanted respect.
“As a boy, I was slapped by a gangster as I was making my way to the local shop. I told my stepfather about it, and he told me to go back to the man and throw a brick on his toes. My stepfather said the man won’t bother me again after doing that. I then did it, and the man never bothered me again. I felt powerful and thought I had the respect I deserved. That is how I got sucked into gangsterism.”
Not long after that, he joined the Panzi Boys gang, dropped out of school in Grade 9, and from there his life of crime and violence escalated.
“I believed I had to hurt people. While in prison, and receiving counselling, I realised that I actually carried a lot of hate around with me from the age of seven. At that young age, I was already planning a murder in my head. At that age, I lived with my aunt, as my mother was a domestic worker, and she had to ‘sleep in’.
Every night, I was stripped naked to check if I have any money or food, as my aunt insisted I must help with food. I ended up walking to and from Parow as a seven-year-old – sometimes only walking back home at midnight, so that I can wash people’s cars for money. Later, I was also used by older gang members to stand in the road to force drivers of delivery trucks to stop, in order not to run me over, and then the older guys would rob them.”
He stopped taking part in gang fights in the 1990s after a rival gang member bit off a chunk of his ear. Then he got involved with drug smuggling and armed robberies.
Just before his last crime that saw him serve 12 years in jail, he decided that he was done with living on the wrong side of the law.
“I worked as a security guard and was about to get the manager position. Then my car was stolen. The guys whom I used to do armed robberies with then heard about my car being stolen and asked me to join them for another armed robbery to cover my losses. Somehow they managed to convince me, even though I had made up my mind that I was done with that.
“They fetched me one day and we drove around greater Cape Town – from Rylands to Plattekloof. We were looking for an open residential door. We didn’t want to break into a house. We wanted to just walk into the house, and we wanted someone to be home. I didn’t care about anyone.
“We found a house with an open door in Durbanville. The woman was home alone. I tied her up, and we were busy loading the safe and other valuables, when her neighbour realised something is amiss. He had a gun. Also, the woman’s husband arrived home, and panic set in. The neighbour was shot by one of my accomplices, and while I made my way over to him to get his gun, he shot me in the leg. The man later died.”
What followed was a high-speed chase with the police, which ended when Mr Esau and his accomplices were arrested in Kalksteenfontein.
It was his involvement with the Department of Correctional Services’ victim-offender dialogue and the care he received from church-based groups while in prison that made him to decide to change his life.
The dialogue initiative was established in 2012 as a way to rehabilitate offenders and reconcile them with their victims.
Mr Esau learnt to do basic carpentry while in prison, and in 2012, when his daughter wanted a doll house as a gift, he built her an “upmarket” one using recycled materials. He realised he had a talent for this.
My case officer referred me to the Carpenters’ Shop when I came out on parole. When I approached them, I was told it’s a training centre, and I actually have to pay for the training. I had no money and explained to them I just got out of jail. I was home for one week, and the next week, I got a call to say I can start without paying. In December, the shop closed, but our trainer, Collin Esau (no relation), is now renting the premises for his small business, and I now work for him for a stipend,” Mr Esau said.
Now he would like to train other young people with the skill he has acquired, but he needs the tools and materials to do so.
“I want to change my life, and I want to help the community. God did not allow me to go to jail in vain. I can help other young men. It is through God’s love that I am now able to love and to care for others, and I will never take God’s grace for granted again.”
If you would like to assist Mr Esau to start his training project, call him at 079 3974 582.