By Loushe Jordaan
Thousands of children are serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world, recruited by a state or non-state armed groups and used as fighters, human shields, messengers, or spies. But in Cape Town, there is a different kind of child soldier roaming the gang ridden streets of the cape Flats. These children are exposed to immense violence within their communities – unable to break free from the trap of gang life. According to research conducted by UCT in 2018, there are about 10 000 children on the Cape Flats recruited in gangs, isolated to a life on the streets and forced to kill.
While communities are aware of the pervasive nature of gang culture, for some, the thought of child soldiers still seems far-fetched. Founder of the Hanover Park Society, Moulana Taha Rodriques says child soldiers are a reality on the Cape Flats.
“Many of our people in the Western Cape are in denial thinking a child soldiers are children in African countries standing with weapons, but on the Cape flats there are child soldiers. Our child soldiers are target groups because they are minors and seldom get convicted of any crimes,” says Rodriques.
A group of young men from Elsies River who were recruited as child soldiers says that it is easy to lure children into gangsterism. They say that gangsters select the weakest of children, children who come from poor backgrounds, searching for acceptance.
“I got trapped by the fancy clothing, the popularity and everything else that comes with being a gangster,” says Rayhaan Davids*.
“I was lured into gangsterism due to lack of opportunities in my area. I went to school and was picked on for not having name brands, for smelling funny and being picked on and these gangsters make you feel so important and loved. They make you think that there is no better life than gangsterism,” says Ashwin De Beer*.
Maulana Rodriques says wide scale poverty and other socio economic challenges are the main contributing factors that lead children into the life of crime.
“During my interaction with the children, I realised that these are all children that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, craving for a sense of belonging and acceptance,” says Rodriques.
Moulana Rodriques adds that general curses play an active part in children being consumed by gang cultures. Children have become so accustomed to gangsterism that they no longer have a sense of where they really are. They identify their location based on the territory of various gang groups.
“Children as young as primary school level have become so territorial. If you ask them where they live, instead of saying in De Hague or Hanover Park, they say they stay in American Land or Dixie turf,” he states.
A former child soldier who managed to change his life for the sake of his son, Sulaiman May says there are signs that parents can look out for that can help break the cycle of gangsterism.
“If you know your child has something you never purchased, ask him where he got it and make him give it back. Notice the change in their behaviour. Pay attention to their sleeping and eating patterns. But most importantly, make sure that you constantly communicate with your children,” says May.
It is a common response for parents to isolate themselves from a child or family member when it comes to light that they are involved with the wrong crowd, but Moulana Rodriques says that pushing the child away will not benefit either party.
“Pushing your child away will lead them further into the hands of gangsters. Instead be their friend, speak to them. Shower them with love and reassure them that you will be with them no matter what,” Rodriques states.
However, there is also hope in the form of an intervention programme run by a group of youth. A group of students from Mountview Primary school started an initiative called Peace Ambassadors to promote peace and unity in Hanover Park and to reach out to children who are caught up in gangsterism and those who parents fear might also be involved with the wrong crowd. They provide a hot meal, some informative sessions, a youth lecture and a place where all residents can come together and help change the mind set of resident.
Chadwich Abrahams, one of the founders of Peace Ambassadors says it is never too early to be bad and never too late to be good.
“It can happen to anyone at any stage. I have seen the most innocent children get lured into criminal activities and I have witnessed the most hard core gangsters change their lives. With the right support, you can change your life too.
If you wish to make contact with Chadwich Abrahams, feel free to contact him on 064 497 2868. VOC
*Names have been changed