Story of Hope: From Youth Gangsters to Writers and ActorsJune 16, 2020
Lantana is an area of Paarl known to be riddled with gangsterism. Over the years many lives have been negatively impacted and the community often lives in fear.
Monte Christo Miqlat (MCM) runs a variety of empowerment programmes at the Tiffany’s Centre in Lantana, focusing primarily on sport, feeding, job creation and educational programmes to create social change.
During 2016 the violence in the area became worse than ever and Aletia Grundling, CEO of MCM, realised that they had to do something about the increased gang activities.
“Kids were hanging around our centre, many of them trapped by drug lords and gang leaders, and others desperately in search of freedom and direction. ,” says Aletia.
Inviting gang members to gym
MCM decided to start with an invitation to the gang members to come and enjoy a free workout at their gym and get a warm meal. The gym is normally open to the public, but for an hour every day they closed it, and gave gang members exclusive rights to use the gym.
As one can imagine, the gesture came with many challenges. Weapons needed to be taken away before they could enter and a close eye was kept on the proceedings. But, the initiative opened many doors.
Organising arts and culture outings
In an effort to expand their involvement with the gang members, the MCM team took the group for an outing to watch David Kramer’s production, Kanala, at the Athol Fugard Theatre in Cape Town.
The group of 37 were bussed and accompanied by the Correctional Services and the Police.
“I wanted the gangsters to see the rich beauty of their culture and be motivated to aspire to do more with their lives. I also organised one of the actors to talk to them afterwards to motivate them further,” says Aletia.
When the award-winning movie, Noem my Skollie, hit the theatres, they organised an exclusive free screening for the group. John Fredericks, the ex-gangster whose life story the book and movie is about, spoke to the group and made a big impression on them.
A drastic decision for good
A few days later, the leader of the gang decided to commit to a new life and left the gang.
He was a person of great influence and managed to convince 14 others to also break their ties with the gang.
He knocked on Aletia’s door and wanted to know what the next steps should be. She then asked him what his dream was, he answered; “I want to write, make music and dance.”
Aletia called John Fredericks and shared the news of the impact of his film. John then called another author, Gaireyah Fredericks and asked her to come on board. The four of them: the gang leader, Aletia, John and Gaireyah met to unpack the possibilities and decided to put on a theatre production.
“The fact that the gang leader was at the meeting and on time showed his commitment to change and his readiness to receive support. It was an incredible moment for us!,” says Aletia.
Changing reputation through stories
The group wanted to show the community that they are no longer the “badies”. They wanted to display how they have changed and are ready to make a meaningful contribution. They put together the Flatse Fees with the Mayor of Paarl opening the festival.
“The community must heal themselves and decide to take ownership of the peace and freedom in their spaces, with the Flatse Fees, they did just that.”
After the success of the first festival, MCM officially opened the Drama and Writing School in 2017. The group of boys were encouraged to write down their own stories and this therapeutic process brought much healing, facilitating forgiveness towards themselves and others.
“You have to one-on-one be involved with the child. Your interaction cannot stay at a group level. It is important to build trust and understand their story.”
Some of their stories were compiled together in a book, Hanne innie lig, voete oppie grond, and was also written into a drama piece. The group performed the production at various occasions and they won best script at the Western Cape Department of Culture and Sport competition in 2017.
After the successes of the Drama and Writing School, many of them went back to school or obtained jobs. A few of them started making a positive contribution to the community by painting the walls of the Tiffany centre and surrounding areas. Click here about this group of teenagers who call themselves the Paint Warriors.
A significant drop in violence
“Working with the gang has not been an isolated process. The programme might have started with the MCM team, but it expanded into the broader community, taking ownership of new opportunities and now we have seen less and less violence,” says Aletia.
MCM’s efforts went beyond the gym sessions, meals and outings. At the end of the year they invited the parents for a sit-down lunch with their children and every child received a trophy with their names on it. The programme has redefined the children’s public identity from gangster to drama student, writer and actor.
By investing into these boys lives, they have shifted from trouble makers to the pride of their community and an inspiration for others
“One of the dads came to say thank you for the drama trophy. He even took it to his work, to show to his co-workers who prayed with him for his child.
There is still a long road ahead, but the trophies, and these boys, have become a symbol of change and answered prayers for us,” says Aletia.
*Not all of the teenagers who are involved in the programmes at MCM were part of gangs or drugs.
[Photos by Hailey Sadler]