The final instalment of this short series focuses on the other end of the spectrum in the world of gang culture. There are many gang members that do eventually choose to leave their lifestyle behind in the search for more stability and safety. This is true all around the world and new initiatives in South Africa have been implemented in the last few years to encourage more gang members to change the course of their lives.

To many of us gang culture seems a rather unfathomable suggestion. The constant high risk of living can be seen to severely endanger ourselves, our family and friends. The thought of meeting a brutal death on the front lines against rival gangs or risking a life-long prison sentence can be far too daunting a reality. For those involved however sometimes there is very little choice in the matter. For many of those who join the gangs in areas like the Western Cape it is no less than an essential way of life.

For many women in these regions, as discussed in part one of this series, there is a lot more comfort and security for those that get involved with powerful gang members. Particularly if those women are left vulnerable, with many who join the gangs often being without any close relatives.

Charmaine DeBruine from our previous article, a prime example of when a young woman enters gang culture at a young age, is now an important figure in a nationwide initiative in South Africa known as Ceasefire. Ceasefire is a worldwide organization that is helping to curb violence around the world. With its foundations embedded in the US, with the NGO Cure Violence group, Ceasefire is a violence-prevention model now spreading to the UK, South Africa, Iraq, Syria, and so on.

On the homepage of their website at www.cureviolence.org, they say that their aim is to prevent “…The spread of violence in communities by using the methods and strategies of disease control – detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating the high risk individuals, and changing social norms”.

The site is well-balanced and is providing strong evidence of their success through scientific models showing their progress. Not only that, but the website is also accredited with an award-winning documentary called The Interrupters created by three of their workers in their campaigns to interrupt worldwide violence.

Along with the Ceasefire campaign, another organization that they are working closely with in Africa is the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are now also becoming a part of the increasing number of campaigns against public violence.

Whilst Ceasefire acts as a worldwide initiative, there are some local campaigns that have kick-started nearer to home. Miss DeBruine is also a key figure in the Hanover Park Programme which operates out of the First Community Resource Centre, a non-profit organisation. Their founder, Pastor Craven Engel, has spoken of how important it was to recruit Charmaine to encourage other female gang members to come forward: “…Nobody could identify and get a working plan for female gangsters, because gangsters were seen as men.”

“… Charmaine was our catalyst in telling the females, ‘you can change your behaviour, you can enter into a job, you can cut out this living with a gang”.

Furthermore Charmaine has spoken of the support the Ceasefire campaign has given her in persuading her to leave the gang culture behind, and that before this she lacked any confidence in changing her own fortunes: “In my time I didn’t have the proper guidance. Now people from Ceasefire are here to guide you”.

As well as helping the individuals tackle their own struggles, the group now offers a waypoint between former rival gang members to help solve past and ongoing disputes through vocal negotiation.

Whilst the Hanover Park Programme may be a local group, the Ceasefire initiative is not. Work similar to that of the Hanover Park Programme is also evident in different regions of South Africa. What their work does is not only seeking to provide support and stability to individual women looking to escape gang culture, but to also bring those women together, from different gangs and walks of life, to help identify and help to resolve the problems and issues that surround gang culture in South Africa.

What is incredibly encouraging is not just that men and women are seeing strong reasons for leaving gang culture, but that they are also being given the platform to work together for the betterment of the younger generations that can get caught up in gangs.

What Ceasefire are striving for is a unified effort that casts aside previous rivalry and grudges and looks to bring those that have made their way out of gang life together to help others follow in their footsteps.

With the continued work of these organizations, and the continued contribution of these people as key figures in condemning gang culture and helping deter those from getting involved, there is a very solid foundation from which to grow.

In key cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, these inroads are being made to help stamp out the desire for national and regional conflict, and to help bring together and solidify regional communities, and hopefully the nation.

ROBERT PRITCHARD