The ‘Army’ We Need: Responding to the Cry of the Cape Flats

Arise has it’s home in Heideveld.  This tiny suburb sandwiched in the middle of some of the most notorious Cape Flats neighbourhoods:  Manenberg, Nyanga, Bonteheuwel, Gugulethu, Hanover Park and Vanguard.

Gang names such as Hard Livings, the Americans, the Naughty Boys, Mongrels, Junky Funkies are names we are accustomed to.  We have seen, heard and counselled many who have been affected by gang violence.

Since November 2018 alone there have been almost 2 000 killings on the Cape Flats and yet the public outcry is deafening in its silence.  There seems to be an unspoken acceptance that violence in these neighbourhoods is normal.  That you accept the hardships and sign up to being surrounded by gangs, when you “choose” to live and raise your family on the Cape Flats.  After all, you’ve “chosen” to be surrounded by these “terrible criminals” who hold the streets to ransom. 

But just who are these “terrible criminals” who are shooting aimlessly? Who are these people who seem to have no soul, who could be so evil? Who are they?

They are our children.

They are 10 to 13 year old boys who are angry with their situations and their assigned lot in life. They are our 14 to 18 year olds who are already addicted to drugs, having given up on school.

These are our children who are falling between the gaps of the system: our child protection system, our education system and our health-care system. We have experienced first-hand the lack of coordination and collaboration between policies and organisations.

In a single family, one child may be seen by a social worker at the school, another may be in drug treatment programme.  A grandparent in the home may need some serious medical attention and the overloaded primary caregiver is suffering with depression.  Everyone is treated individually, and no one works together in a holistic way for the whole family. 

With these fragmented services, the root cause of the problems is not being addressed. Added to this is the burden of complex trauma in a community haunted by the ravages of our past. We see and hear families who are frustrated and hopeless. 

Is it any wonder that the Cape Flats is crying? What are the solutions in this overwhelming situation?

We need to work in partnership and collaboration more than ever. We need every government programme to have a family strengthening element to it where we aim to build resilience, nurture strengths, grow problem-solving skills, deepen relationships and develop a sense of belonging. Our ‘army’ against these gangs is to ensure that community organisations, churches, schools, clinics and statutory services work together to ensure that no child or family are left behind. That we restore and give families hope – hope that we find in the gospel of a Father who loves us unconditionally. Hope that tomorrow will be better.

What we don’t need are more young men and women in our prisons. We don’t need the army coming in and causing more chaos and trauma.

We know that families in our country are in crisis. Arise believes that God created all children to be in thriving families and we work tirelessly to ensure that this happens. Families are our primary bonds, meant to meet our need to belong and feel nurtured, protected, valued and supported.  We need to strengthen these family bonds so that our vulnerable families and communities can reduce the pull of gang involvement.

Research globally shows that secure attachment within a nurturing family provides an environment for children to become well-adjusted children, explorative teenagers and responsible parents.

Research also shows that children who have unresponsive parents/ caregivers who have trouble making sustainable emotional connections with children in their care has serious implications for these children. These include the ability to:

  • Identify, manage and read emotions:  Their own but also those of others.
  • The inability to emotionally develop impacts social development.
  • Find a sense of belonging and being seen for who they are
  • Form healthy, boundaried and secure relationships, to form attachments with peers and as parents with their own children.

Children who struggle with these skills are the same children we label and shame which often triggers an angry and violent response to the struggle. The same children where fathers and mothers are in crisis for a variety of reasons. Where fathers are not able to parent in ways that build children and where mothers do not receive prenatal or antenatal care in effective ways. These are the children and families we see.  The same children who are being exposed to yet another generation of trauma. These are the children we want locked away.  These are our children who turn to the gang for identity, security and value; they turn to the gang to belong.

Arise knows that we cannot take away the struggles and the many challenges that our families are facing. We know that we can build resilience, not only in individuals, but in families too. Building resilience is vital to help families withstand and rebound from adversity.

We have seen the significant impact in families when we start focusing on the positives and strengths which allow for deepening connection and relationships to strengthen. We have seen the ripple effects in family dynamics when caregivers start enjoying and spending time with their children. When family means not only to survive but to thrive! This is how we change the face of the gangster on the Cape Flats.  This is how we change the community we live in, work in and love.

When we strengthen families, we strengthen communities.

Written by the Arise Team.