In Cape Town, a priest and former gangsters mobilized against violence

To see its beaches, its extraordinary nature, its inviting city center, it is very difficult for a tourist to believe that the city of Cape Town, at the southern tip of South Africa, is one of the most dangerous in the world. . But a half-hour drive from the center changes the mood as the terrain flattens out. And we enter the Cape Flats, these lost townships, where the police crime card shows red.

Here, neighborhoods like Hanover Park are unfortunately known for their extreme degree of violence, marked by incessant wars between rival gangs: the Americans, the Laughing Boys, the Taliban, the Mongrels … In this neighborhood colored (mestizo) of 50,000 inhabitants, the shootings are daily.

The “switches” at work

“This morning someone was shot nearby”, immediately announces Pastor Craven Engel, in his premises next to the Protestant Church. For two months, a local gang has been out in an internal conflict and more than 30 people have already been killed. Behind him, a map shows the “territories” of each gang, on a wall covered in shocking newspaper clippings: “Killed for his Nikes”, “The most dangerous street in Cape Town”

The pastor landed here twenty years ago. Soup kitchen, information, social assistance, prevention of school dropouts … And since 2010, the ceasefire program has aimed to reduce gang violence. his peculiarity? The use of former gangsters as mediators, the so-called “switches”. ‘When there is a conflict between gangs, they gather them, make them sit down, discuss the problem, what caused it. They help find a solution. This is how we reduce gang violence. »

According to Pastor Engel, one must first understand it in order to attack the violence at the roots. Because the gangs are only one link in a big vicious circle that begins with poverty, unemployment, drugs, the virile image of the gangster, which seems to be the only path to social ascension. “We have an epidemiological approach to violence that we treat as health professionals.”

Two gold stars on the front teeth

“Here was the battlefield” : with a sweeping gesture, Jeremy Davis points to the vacant lot. Two gold stars adorn its front teeth. At 48 years old, this former gangster is part of the CeaseFire team. “We fought with stones first, and then it was weapons. We would stand in the corner over there and we would shoot, we would shoot, we would shoot … “ It’s been 22 years since Jeremy gave up weapons and drugs, and he’s working now to convince young gangsters to do the same. “What we do really works!”, he insists. A cry from the heart, and in spite.

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In 2019, the ceasefire program lost city funding. A political decision, according to its officials. Jeremy is now forced to work as a volunteer. “Politicians are fighting against each other and it is people here who are suffering. More and more children are becoming gangsters and we have run out of funding. »

“To become an example”

12 km from Hanover Park, near the coast, the pastor has set up another program called Camp Joy: a detoxification center for those gangsters who want to drop out where they learn manual labor. Chad, 23, wants to join the gang after seven years. “I lost a lot in my life, that was also what made me join the gang. The trigger was like therapy for mehe says painfully, the diction difficult. They force you to become ruthless. »

In a month, he will return to Hanover Park, to the grandmother who raised him. He knows his old gang is waiting for him. But now he has another dream: to become a fisherman. “I want to set an example for others. Show them that regardless of your past, you can really change. »

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One person killed every twenty minutes

South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world with 74 murders and 122 rape charges per day in the last quarter of 2021, according to government statistics released in February 2022.

Every twenty minutes, one person is killed in the country. In 2021, the number of murders increased by 8.9% compared to the previous year.

The country has 37 homicides per 100,000 people, against seven on average in the world.

In the last three months of 2021, police forces recorded 6,859 murders, including 902 women and 352 children, or a total of almost 700 more than in the previous quarter.

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