The issue of gang violence in the Cape Flats and the townships of Cape Town is a very serious one and it is one that has plagued communities for a very long time. Lives and whole communities have been destroyed by the mere presence of the gangs and the crime and violence that come along with it. People, and not least of all the children in these communities, are being held hostage by the ruthless gang leaders.
Many public conversations have taken place to etch out ways of tackling this problem and on Tuesday, 1 April 2014, the Cape Argus published a story about the gangs and their ever increasing recruitment of children and their subsequent use in committing crimes ranging from theft to murder.
This year (2014) saw the release of the movie, Four Corners written by Terrence Hammond, Hofmeyr Scholtz and Ian Gabriel (who also directed it). It tells the story of the on-going gang war that has been taking place in the Cape Flats for over a century through the experiences of a young coloured boy living in the Flats and his estranged father, who have both been confronted with the seemingly inescapable fate of falling into gang life.
What both the article and the movie have managed to do is capture the realities and implications that gang culture have on children. Although it is the community at large that suffers from this war mongered by crime warlords and drug merchants, it is the children who suffer the most as their future is violently ripped out of their hands by the gangs who recruit them and condemn them to a life of crime, a fate of being a criminal and many times a premature death.
The recruitment of children into gangs in Cape Town is nothing new at all as it is something that has been happening for decades. Children are generally vulnerable to exploitation because they are physically, mentally and emotionally easier to manipulate, intimidate and take advantage of, however, they become even more vulnerable to being coerced or seduced into criminal activity not only because of the reasons I have given there but also because they can be used as scapegoats in the event. The criminals’ plans are foiled because children, under the Child Justice Act, are seldom sent to prison but are instead enrolled into a diversion programme.
Poverty and inequality are challenges that communities like those in the Flats and the Townships still face today and it is predominantly because of this that a lot of young people in the area are finding themselves joining the gangs and are being exploited by the adults and older kids in these gangs and in a lot of instances, in the community at large.
Children being used in such a way is detrimental to their well-being and development and condemns them to a life of crime that will almost be impossible to leave, not only physically but also emotionally and mentally. In addition to that, it perpetuates the continuation of the cycle of poverty in their lives and reduces any chances they might have at a better life.
The exploitation and hindrance to realising a positive and holistic development are the exact things that make this child labour. There is generally very little understanding of what exactly child labour is in the country and as a result most people do not think that it is a serious problem in our communities and they definitely do not know to make the connection between child labour and the recruiting of children into the gangs.
The national Child Labour Programme of Action (CLPA) defines child labour as:
“…work by children under 18 which is exploitative, hazardous or otherwise inappropriate for their age, detrimental to their schooling, or their social, physical, mental, spiritual or moral development.”
The term ‘work’ is not limited to work for gain but includes chores or household activities in the child’s household where such work is exploitative, hazardous or inappropriate for their age or detrimental to their development.
Under the general definition of child labour, we also have what are known as the Worst Forms of Child Labour (WFCL) and it is under this that children being used by adults or older children to commit crimes (CUBAC) and as well as children being used in armed conflict can be classified and it is within these classifications that we find children in gangs.
Although there is general consensus that children being recruited into violent gangs qualifies as CUBAC, there is still a debate about whether or not this qualifies as children in armed conflict. When one looks at the images of children in the Cape flats brandishing all sorts of weapons, including fire arms, or learn the military jargon used within the gangs or even when you take into account the Premier of the Western Cape’s reported calls for the national government to deploy the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) into the Flats to deal with the gangs, it is hard to deny that those opposed to this classification may need to reconsider their position, particularly when it comes to budgeting and planning around child protection and rendering services to these vulnerable children.
It cannot be denied that the violence in the Cape Flats including townships like Khayelitsha, can be classified as war or at the very least conflict and the calls for military intervention have been necessitated by the allegations that it has become apparent that the police are not equipped to effectively deal with this scourge.
Resorting to military intervention is not a decision people should come to lightly as the implications of this can be grave for the civilians in these communities and most especially the children. Whatever the course of action turns out to be regarding the eradication of gangs, one thing remains certain, gangs have waged a war on our communities and they have enlisted our children in the Flats and in the townships. They are being trained to become assassins and guns for hire and this problem does not appear to be dissipating but instead, it appears to be worsening and we need to come together as civil society and government to end this reign of terror on our children and protect their future.
- Doreen Gaura is Anti Child Labour Programme coordinator at Anex.