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Proto gangs on the rise

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Gang violence in Khayelitsha is on the rise, and at risk of escalating into something far worse. That was the warning by Kelly Gillespie, a social anthropology lecturer at the Wits University, during her testimony at the Khayelitsha Commission of Enquiry. Gillespie has conducted research which reveals that children as young as 12 are involved in gang formations called ‘proto-gangs’.

Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat, Gillespie said gang violence in the area had not quite been the same as it had been in the so called ‘coloured communities’, and older townships in Cape Town. However, she said there had been an alarming and dramatic rise in these gang formations over the past few years, which were similar nature to the formations seen in older communities during the 1950’s and 60’s.

According to Gillespie, gang formations during those eras were far different from those in post-apartheid South Africa. Pre transition, street gangs, prison gangs, and drug dealers all operated differently from one another. After 1994, a gap was opened in the underground economy, bringing with it an influx of drugs the likes of which the country had not seen. This brought about unison between all gang areas, seeing a tight connection between the control of territories and drugs.

“What’s interesting about what’s going on in Khayelitsha is, although alcohol has always been a major factor at play in a lot of African townships across the country, but we’ve seen an increase in drug use amongst young black township residents,” she said.

The introduction of highly addictive drugs like tik was destabilising the social life of the youth in those townships. Pre 1994, although drugs and gangs were still evident in these townships, the youths of the time were often drawn to anti-apartheid political formations, instead of being drawn into the gang culture.

Another factor was that youth from these townships were exposed to violence at schools. She said many parents, in trying to provide their children with a better education, were sending them to schools that were historically “one racial group up”, where they witnessed this violence.

“There are kids from Khayelitsha who are going to coloured schools, and at those schools they are getting massively exposed to the kinds of gang structures that are operational across areas like Manenberg and Hanover Park,” she said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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