Pagamesa: Why Hanging out with Gangsters saved my life

2013-08-03 09:49

In 2005, as a sixteen year old grade 11 student from Kuils River, attending shool in Parow; I would spend my weekends in the Ravie. This was what we used to call Ravensmead, one of the more unsafe communities in Cape Town. Gangsterism was rife as well as drug abuse and ‘car-jumping’ (girls who would take rides in cars with men for drugs).

On a Friday after school my best friend and I would bravely walk to Ravensmead. We knew people and we had ‘friends’ there. Young and fearless – we would roam the streets at night. Talking to the people hanging out on the parks – near the abandoned school that became part of gang territory. We would hear gunshots in the distance but for some reason we didn’t think it would ever be us.

One incident that stood out was the when we met a girl, about our age from Uitzicht. She was insisting that we go with her to a party – she had a lift there and back for us and when we asked her what was happening at the party, she said ‘alles wat mal is’ (everything cool/crazy). Just as we were about to get in to the car we saw the white Opel – it was my friend’s mother and without warning we dove into the bushes to hide and the girl left.

We were later told that this girl was a car-jumper and would go around taking young girls to these parties to trade them to gangsters and dealers for tik. Lucky escape.

This was one of many such incidents that now makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. Not everything in the Ravie was bad, one night on the corner of second street I was explaining to the guys what the significance of the Cheshire cat was in Alice in Wonderland. My friend was getting bored and told me to stop talking; when they told her “bly jy still” (you keep quiet) and they told me “praat aan wit kind, jy praat die waarheid” (carry on talking white girl, you are telling the truth).

What they learned from me pales in comparison to what I learned from them – my favourite topic was the ‘taal’ which is language spoken by gangsters and I got to understand the thinking and mind set of that life. For example: ‘a fraans met uister vlerke’ is someone who was in prison before and a ‘n ma se kind vanie lig’ is a Christian with no gang affiliations.

I watched them battle back and forth as the taal was more than a language but a tool for battling. Much like debate – they would battle back and forth to see who could say what the fastest and who had the most ‘lyn’ (power / connections). I remember being told that if anyone asks me ‘waar le jou minute?’ (what are you affiliations) that I had to run. There is an ‘official response to this question that if you spat it out fast enough you would gain the respect of who asked you but if not, they would ‘chise’ (go after) you.

I learned how to survive and while I was never interested in belonging to a gang I was always interested in understanding people. So when I hear stories in the news, it’s more than news. It’s what is happening to the people who helped me learn how to survive on the trains or when I was alone in a dark road late at night.

Which has happened and I managed to survive because I was ‘wys of the nommer’ (I knew what was going on). I have come out of a an attack by four people in the township in Stellenbosch, unscathed; I have avoided numerous attempted muggings and abductions – which would happen on my way home from the station. I value it like I value my Honor’s degree and my confirmation classes.

According to my friend from back then; long after I stopped going to the Ravie, the people we talked to would still ask her ‘waars daai wit kind, wanner kom sy weer?’ (where’s that white girl and when is she coming back).

While I respect the people I have met -  they had no faith left in the future but I always did. I know that some have since been lost to gang violence and I pray for those who are still in the life because of all the lessons I learned the most important one is that once you are trapped in a life of gangsterism - getting out will very often cost your life.


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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