You are already familiar with these faces from our previous blog posts about the Peace Agreement signed in December 2018.
However, notice the more relaxed body language and nobody throwing gang signs.
“U a great guy jimmy… Nd ii gotta thnk u cause if it wasn’t for u then mby some of our friends would have been stabbed to but ii thnk u for opening our eyes nd showing us that there is more to life than being a gangster nd beating each other up…I thnk u for everything u have done so far nd ii hope we wil walk a long path together 🙏 Jim.
U an inspiration for many people nd thnx for what u doing ii hope people appreciate what u doing. K.L. (Message sent by leader of one group – March 28th)
Our previous blog post described how Jim and Coop had retained an experienced Coach and were planning a soccer clinic for 3 boys from each of 5 groups (4 of 5 groups who signed the Peace Agreement plus a 6th group). Funding for the clinic was provided by a donation to the Khayamandi Foundation by Don, an American who recently visited Knysna and met with some gang-involved youth through Jim.
The soccer clinic was a success. We provided transportation and all 15 boys “pitched”, as they say in South Africa. Three were in Jim’s car, and 12 in a taxi van. The 12 in the taxi had a history of violent fighting and this was the first time in a long while that many had been together under the pretence of peace. The boys were tentative at first, but that quickly changed on the soccer field. And the ride home included many laughs between new friends.
The clinic concluded with a soccer match that included many local youth who were also on the field. Our 15 guys are standing and wearing orange bibs.
At the end of the clinic, each threesome was provided some basic equipment and challenged to return to their group and institute a training schedule. “Demonstrate that you are serious, and Coach Justice will commence weekly coaching visits and we will provide soccer boots (cleats)”.
And it is happening. Justice has commenced coaching sessions with each group and soccer boots (cleats) were delivered to 2 groups last week. Some of the groups initiated soccer matches on their own. Two teams played on each of the 2 previous Sundays, and a mini-tournament involving 4 groups and Coach Justice is scheduled for today.
The Peace Agreement remains in effect, and the soccer program is helping to reinforce and maintain peace. Damaged relationships are being rekindled, and new friendships established.
Yet there remains work to be done. There are numerous youth gangs in the community and not all respond to the same approach. The 5th group to sign the December Peace Agreement is one example.
Welcome Witbooi (see photo) is a reformed gangster who now works with gang-involved youth and impacted communities across South Africa.
The prison system in South Africa is controlled by the notorious Number Gangs; the 26’s, 27’s, and 28’s. The highest rank in each gang is General, and the dominant gang is the 28’s. Welcome joined a street gang at age 13 and was sentenced to 23 years at age 17. He served 14 years, prior to being released 7 years ago.
Welcome is a retired 4-Star General in the 28’s, the highest rank attainable. Stars are earned by stabbing or killing a prison warder (guard), or designated inmate. While death is typically the only way out of the 28’s, there is sometimes another option for a General. That’s how Welcome got out. (Click to learn how)
Welcome was recently in Knysna to conduct a workshop and start the process of developing a Gang and Violence prevention strategy for the town. The workshop and 2 speaking engagements were sponsored by KILT; the Knysna Initiative for Learning and Teaching.
KILT kindly scheduled a few hours of Welcome’s time to be spent with Jim, such that they could tour the Location (former townships) and meet with 1 of the groups who signed the Peace Agreement. The meeting was scheduled in advance, and allowed Welcome to speak candidly with the guys.
While some of the conversation was not in English, it was evident that Welcome’s message was well received, The impact has been positive. Welcome’s credibility as someone who knows the harsh reality of life in the 28’s, and prison, is invaluable.
Much has been accomplished. Thanks to each of the groups, and the willingness of many of the guys to make more responsible choices, the boys in Janet’s study program now attend schools which are considerably safer.
Peace means the groups are no longer fighting during or after school, or carrying weapons to school. And this means walking to and from school is safer for students attending 3 high schools.
Thank you for your readership and continued support,
Janet and Jim