SEATTLE, Washington — South Africa is a country with an extensive history of racial segregation and racial injustices. With international disfavor of the racial apartheid regime, South Africa faced international sanctions. In 1989, a reform process began and in 1994 South Africa became a democracy. Political hero Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa’s post-apartheid era. Despite substantial reform and changes, many South African’s still suffer the consequences of apartheid as well as the consequences of the country’s economic instability. As a direct result of inequitable access to fundamental resources during the period of apartheid, unemployment rates and other related factors, gangsterism in South Africa has become a matter of survival for many.
The History of South Africa
The apartheid system took a number of fundamental human rights away from Black South Africans as well as other non-white races like Indians and people of mixed race. The introduction of the Group Areas Act was a key apartheid policy that designated specific areas for specific races to reside in. The policy resulted in mass displacements for non-whites. Early gangs took root during these forced removals when thousands of families were evicted from areas designated for white people only. Apartheid-era displacement rendered many non-white South Africans victim to conditions of poverty, leaving generations of families without access to proper housing, sustenance, employment, healthcare and quality education.
The Impact of Apartheid and Economic Instability
With the physical, emotional and systemic scars of apartheid still present within South Africa, impacts of vestigial racial inequality and inequitable access to opportunities affect the lives of many in the country. In general, the country also has a high unemployment rate. As of June 23, 2020, South Africa’s unemployment rate stands at 30.1% and people aged between 15 and 34 account for 63,3% of unemployed persons.
According to the Living Conditions Survey 2014/15, 49.2% of South African adults are living in poverty and many struggle to support their children. Poverty-stricken youth are often forced to turn to gangsterism to fill gaps in opportunity within the country. Gangsterism statistics are tracked in association with local and national crime rates. Between 2018 and 2019, reports show that 21,022 murders were reported in South Africa, with over 700 being committed by children. A local news source in Cape Town, claims that children as young as 14 years old are being incarcerated for gang-related crimes.
The South African government along with multiple local organizations are addressing issues of gangsterism in South Africa by acknowledging and reforming systemic inequities and ineffective policies.
Five Ways to Combat Gangsterism in South Africa
- Ensuring access to quality education. Between 2003 and 2013, enrollment rates for children entering primary school have more than doubled. Although enrollment rates have increased for primary school, statistics show that only 50% of students tend to stay in school through the 12th grade, which is the final exiting exam of high school. Saferspaces, an organization affiliated with the South African government, focuses on reducing violence and crime. The organization reports that the country’s education system operates on a generalized curricular standard, meaning it is less accommodative to the needs of all children. With a concentration of funding toward diversifying childhood education, rates of students completing schooling through high school could raise significantly. With children remaining in school programs, children are less likely to look to gangsterism.
- Improving familial support. UNICEF states that it is essential to optimize the support of a child from the moment of conception. Determining the success of a child’s life begins with ample access to early childhood development services, parental role provisioning and other child and parent programs. South Africa has declared the National Development Plan 2030 in order to establish localized access to early childhood development services across the country. With early childhood resources available to families, proper tools exist to avoid the hooks of gangsterism in South Africa.
- Modifying responsibilities of the police. Saferspaces states that police reform is necessary in order to provide proper support to victims of the system of gangsterism in South Africa. When gang activity occurs, police officers are often stepping beyond the bounds of protecting the community. This response from officers instigates greater insecurity within neighborhoods that already don’t feel secure. The role of the police is only to contain a gang situation until other departments resolve it.
- Reforming prison response. If resources are allocated to rehabilitation programs for children in gangsterism, they are introduced to aspirations and opportunities other than gang affiliation. According to a recent article from The New Humanitarian, arrests of gang members are regarded as “ineffectual in deterring gang members and are also too short to disrupt the organizational structure of gangs.” Rather than seeing imprisonment as an only solution, rehabilitation programs like the Young in Prison South Africa (YiPSA) gangsterism intervention program, helps deter youth from continued participation in gang activity after incarceration.
- Reclaiming and restructuring neighborhoods. Present informal settlement neighborhoods most commonly house those who fell victim to displacement during apartheid. For the 10 years following apartheid, the South African National Congress (ANC) built nearly two million homes for Black South Africans within pre-existing informal settlements. While these homes sustain as shelters, they reinforce segregation and the density of gangsterism in a particularly impoverished area. Additionally, the restructuring of neighborhoods should include places for community surveillance in order to monitor gang activities.
Governmental reconciliation of apartheid legacies along with reform of unequal distribution of resources across varying racial groups in South Africa is imperative. With improvements being made to equity in youth access to education, stable homes, community resources and public safety, the empowerment to reach beyond gangsterism will be a likely outcome for future generations.
– Lilia Wilson