Giving youth a chance

Nadeem Cupido, 19, shows some of his skills on a skateboarding ramp.

While gang violence has flared up once more in Bonteheuwel since the first week in January, there are organisations refusing to give up on fighting the scourge – among them is a project called Girls in Gangs.

The project is a partnership between Action Aid SA, which is linked to an organisation in the UK, and the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (JPF).

The project works with girls threatened by gang and gender violence and empowers them to help their communities overcome the impact of gang culture.

By putting girls at the centre of the project, it’s hoped that they can challenge the normalisation of violence in gang-plagued neighbourhoods.

High school girls from Bonteheuwel and Mitchell’s Plain have been recruited to be part of this project, which was launched in August last year.

Project co-ordinator Judith Ken-nedy, said it involved three modules: personal development; the world we live in; and organising campaigns to create awareness.

“The personal development involves who we are, where we come from, discovering ourselves and self-esteem. The world we live in deals with what it means to be a woman in society today, and later, in the year, they will join a campaign, part of it is to get involved with another organisation, which deals with the water crisis, for example.

“Earlier this year, we had a camp, and from there a curriculum was co-created, and some of the things that came up were issues of relationships. They wanted to know more about abuse,” Ms Kennedy said.

Facilitator Lucille February said that since the start of the project, the girls had become so much more confident.

“Wehaveseensignificant growth in them. We couldn’t do this project without the consent of their parents. Natasha Lodewyk (a fellow facilitator) plays a guiding role. We want them to take ownership and become activists in the community.

“With them recruiting more girls, we would be able to keep more girls off the street. There has been an increase of girls carrying guns for gangsters, and we want to create alternatives. Eventually, we just want to play a supportive role,” Ms February said.

Ms Lodewyk said the parents were “ecstatic that their daughters were part of this project”.

“We have developed a good relationship with the parents, and she Ms Lodewyk added.

One of the leaders, Azraa Adams, 15, said she had learnt to stand up for herself.

“I am no longer scared to ap-
proach people. I also learnt that I don’t have to be aggressive when I defend myself. I can now confidently tell a teacher, for example, who is being sexist, what my thoughts are on what is right for a female. I grew up with some young people who have joined gangs.

“Since I’ve been with this group, I gained enough confidence to speak to them, and I encouraged them to look for better things than to sit on the corner, because that will take them nowhere. Some of them have listened to me and even have jobs now,” Azraa said.

Leighjane Swartz, 18, said it’s her dream to work with people, and since being part of the programme, she had shared everything she had learnt with her friends.

“I take everything I learn here by heart. I am happy to be a leader and love being part of this group. My parents are also interested in what I do. With this group, I can be myself, I can speak my mind and I can defend myself.

“I have lost some people close to me because of gang violence. My aunt got caught in the crossfire and died last year. Gang members used to slap and rob you if they hear you are from another part of the community, and we want this to change,” Leighjane said.

Azraa said she could not visit friends in the “backstreets”, as she would be labeled a gangster.

“As a girl I cannot walk freely in my community. Things were different before, but now it is a war zone. Children are so attracted to gangsters – they idolise them, and girls think it is cool to date a gangster. What they don’t understand, is that you can get your death by association,” she added.

When the Athlone News visited the Bonteheuwel Multi-purpose Centre, where the group meets, it was a hive of activity with other projects also runningprogrammes there.

A group of boys were involved with skateboarding, a karate group practised their self-defence techniques and a dance group went through their choreography. All these initiatives have a similar aim – to provide an alternative for young people and keep them away from social ills.

At least five people havebeen shot and killed in the area from Sunday January 7 to Friday February 16, and a 12-year-old was shot in the leg when caught in the crossfire.

Ward 50 councillor Angus Mckenzie said he believed the violence had flared up again because the police and community were putting the gangsters’ drug trade under pressure.

Bishop Lavis SAPS and Metro police have been raiding suspected drug dens. Police visibility has also been stepped up. Mr Mckenzie said eviction processes were under way for a City-owned house in Vlamboom Road, which was also raided on Sunday January 7.

Rushen Arendse, 36, is the latest victim of these killings. He was shot and killed in Dissel Road on Friday February 16.

On Friday February 9, Berlyn Arnolds, 33, who was a missionary for Christian organisation, Victory Outreach Ministries, was stabbed to death in Kiaat Road.

Mr Mkenzie started an initiative he calls the Triangle Project, where the community can give information to his office on crime-related activities. He then passes this information to the police. It had proven to be effective, he said.

“A suspect appeared in court on Friday February 16 for the murder of Mr Arnolds, and on Monday February 19, a suspect appeared in court for the murder of Mr Arendse. These arrests were made possible because of the Triangle Project.

“As soon as you take away what the gangsters consider theirs, like the drug trade, then the violence flares up. We will continue to put pressure on them.

“It looks like we have to go through hell first in order to get peace.