Returning home to help the youth

Magadien Wentzel, 56, has a burning love for Manenberg.

If Magadien Wentzel, 56, a once feared high-ranking 28s prison gang leader, could do his life over, he would be a successful advocate, committed husband and doting father.

Before landing up in prison, Mr Wentzel was a student at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), working towards his law degree.

He was involved in the student uprising of the time and was imprisoned.

He so despised the apartheid government that while in prison for his involvement in a noble fight, he ended up stabbing white prison warders, adding more years to his sentence, which eventually led to him climbing the 28s gang ranks.

He spent 25 years behind bars and was also the main subject of Johnny Steinberg’s book about prison gangs, called The Number. In the book, Mr Wentzel describes vividly how he ate a human heart.

But all that came to an end when his son nearly lost his life during the 1999 tornado that hit Manenberg.

The shock of the near-tragedy forced Mr Wentzel to change his life and after his release from prison in 2003, he made a decision to dedicate his life to helping the youth make positive life choices.

Speaking about his youth, Mr Wentzel said he had been an avid soccer player, who met his first love while playing in a Sunday league.

He not only ended up falling in love with the girl, but also with her community – Manenberg.

His heritage, however, goes back to District Six.

“After District Six, my family and I moved to Heideveld – which is why this community still remains close to my heart. From there, we moved to Hanover Park.

“My love for Manenberg started out as a fluke. I played soccer for a Hanover Park club, and if I continued, I could have probably made the national team – who knows? However, a friend of mine asked me to play in their Manenberg team, but they only played Sunday League games, which is more of a league for leisure.

“The first time on that field, I saw a nice girl, and I wanted to come back to Manenberg. I ended up quitting the more serious league and joined the Sunday league.”

When he was released from jail, Mr Wentzel vowed to live for his children and contribute to bringing about positive changes in Manenberg.

In 2004, he started a youth group called the Tornado Stallions Youth Development.

“I didn’t want to do to the youth what many non-government organisations do – get involved and then disappear. I journeyed with them. We went on camps, and I helped some of them to register at a technikon.

“Many of them were involved with drugs and gangs, and 90 percent of them never went back to that life. They are now responsible dads and good husbands. I remember the intense discussions we used to have at workshops, when I was running the Fatherhood Project.”

Asked if he’d consider pursuing a tertiary education again, Mr Wentzel said he had other passions now – his greatest being the best grandfather he can be.

“I’m sure I am one of the most envied grandfathers. I spoil my grandchildren to bits, but I must add that I do not go overboard with the spoiling. I see where their needs are and address that – whether it includes their schooling or anything else they need.

“I have four children and seven grandchildren. My youngest grandchild is a few months old and the oldest is 14.

“I’ve become a more mature father, neighbour, and community member – generally a more caring person,” Mr Wentzel said.

And his opinion of Manenberg?

“Manenberg is a place filled with beautiful people, and I will always cherish the people there.

“This community gave birth to many successful business people, and one of our most profound criminologists, Irvin Kinnes, is a product of Manenberg. I love this place. People here are full of love, and they don’t deserve to be terrorised by gangsters. It’s the minority that feel they own the streets.”

Mr Wentzel works for Khulisa Social Solutions, where he supervises an organic garden in Cape Town. He and his team already supply a Cape Town restaurant with spinach and rocket.