Gangsterism: The illusive lifestyle of power and crime, Part 1

Just a few days ago, on November 21, 2023, to be exact, a well-known gang leader and kingpin was gunned down. An apparent assassination. He ruled most of Westbury with an iron fist; the community feared him; the Varados respected him as their leader. His death has sparked rumors of vengeance and rival wars. The community of Westbury refuses to leave their homes in fear of this coming to fruition. But alas, my story is not about this man; my focus is trying to come to an understanding as to why so many of our youth turn to gangsterism. Why do they choose this way of life when most of the time it only ends in death?

Before I delve into the reason why, let’s first take a look at the origin of gangster culture. The first phase began after the American Revolution. But what we have to remember is that these gang like groups were not hardened criminals but merely youth fighting over local turf. The beginning of serious gangsterism started a few years later in New York City, around 1920. Thus, we are starting the commencement of the second phase. In South Africa, the history of gangs dates back to the Apartheid era, many of these gangs began and still exist in urban areas. This includes cities like Cape Town, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), and Johannesburg.

Cape Town has between 90 and 130 gangs, with the South African Police Service stating a total estimated membership of 100,000. Pretty scary number, right? Which brings me back to my original question. What is so appealing about a life riddled with crime? Speaking to a former gang member who chose to remain anonymous (for his own safety), he explained that the appeal for him was the money (soliciting drugs). He felt like someone of importance because he was feared and, at times, admired by younger men in his community.

Belonging to a gang gave him a sense of power and worth. When asked about his upbringing, he said that his homelife was not easy. There was never money, and he had to learn to fend for himself most of the time. He also dropped out of school at a young age. He never made it to high school. Joining a gang also meant surviving in a violent community. No two stories are the same, yes, but I can almost assure you that you do not have to travel too far to hear an almost similar story in a different community. In a community where poverty and unemployment lead to substance abuse, crime, and violence, adolescents will be lured to gangsterism as a way to escape this.

There is no clear-cut solution to this; it’s an ongoing plight that we face as South Africans and as a global community. To bring about change, the narrative has to be challenged. Mindsets have to be altered.

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

One Reply to “Gangsterism: The illusive lifestyle of power and crime, Part 1”


This is a great piece that gives insight to gangsterism. I hope as you continue expand on the up coming sequel the story develops as far as exposing prominent figures that are behind this syndicate.

Thank you for this.

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