Buying into the hype of bling kings

2010-11-14 14:22

They’re young, mostly 17.

They love fashion, style, cars and guns.

With the help of a cocktail of ­women, drugs and alcohol, they soon embark on their path from hoodlum to gangster – living the good life by being tough, often ­aggressive, and violent.

This is the breeding ground for many of South Africa’s violent ­criminals.

The report by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation that was released this week – ­titled The Study on the Violent ­Nature of Crime – sketches a ­disturbing picture from interviews with 20 violent criminals in jail about how they started their life of crime and why they resorted to ­violence.

Smithson (34) is serving a life ­sentence for robbery with aggravating circumstances. Like most of those interviewed, he became a criminal while still at school.

“Today’s youth grow up around guns as if they are toys. Even petty crime is committed using toy guns. As time goes by, he realises that he needs a real gun. Once he gets a real gun, he can shoot to kill,” Smithson said during the interview.

The report found that these men had a long criminal history dating back to their teens, had been incarcerated for the first time during their teens and, in many instances, had committed many other violent crimes that had not been detected prior to them serving long prison terms.

A deepening pattern of offending emerges “that started in adolescence with petty crimes such as stealing from a local shop, but steadily escalated to activities such as housebreaking, hijacking, armed robbery and murder”, the centre’s ­report states.

Principal researcher David Bruce explains it is the example set by conspicuous consumption that leads to a sense among the youth that ­“access to these things, having these things, makes you valued”.

“The post-apartheid context has created new pressures and new ­motivation for violence among young men, who have internalised the values of conspicuous consumption as a marker of ‘freedom’, along with a belief, not totally unsupported by their life circumstances, that they will never achieve this type of ‘success’ legitimately.”

Their criminal behaviour, though, is not just about material things; it is also about being willing to “do things” to be accepted in the peer group. “They put a very high premium on that – on their status in the peer group,” said Bruce.

According to the report, Fortune, at the age of 16, shot dead an acquaintance who had challenged him, primarily because he did not want to appear “weak” in front of his friends.

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