From Gang Member to Peer Educator

From Gang Member to Peer Educator

In July 2012 we opened our second Waves for Change site in Khayelitsha. It was an intimidating prospect, we were expanding the project for the first time and heading to a community with some very serious, and very real issues.

In March 2012, 3 children at Esangweni School were killed in a retaliation attack by rival gangs. We headed to Esangweni to see if the Waves for Change programme could help bring peace to an area wracked with gang violence.

The early weeks were hard. Sessions were often cancelled, and indeed still are, as the streets errupted in gang battles, with groups of 30 to 40 panga carrying teenagers squaring off against each other in the street and teachers and community members running for their lives. Not long after the start of the programme we were caught in gunfire on the way back from the beach. Several weeks after that the body of a 16 year old washed up on the beach whilst we were surfing. This was not Masiphumelele. This was not Muizenberg. The threats were very real.


The first sign-ups to the course were suggested to us by the principle of Esangweni High, who flagged many local gang members to us who joined up and started surfing. It was soon apparent that these surfers were really kids. Once they hit the water the laughed, joked, smiled and acted as you might expect. We saw good attendence, then some left as the gangs came and took them back.

One of these kids was Thera. 19 Years old and several years behind at School, Thera was a gang member and battled between street life and surfing. We battled to keep him in the programme as we knew he was an elder and more prominent member of the local gang in the area we walked through to access the beach.

In November of 2012, Thera’s mother visited Esangweni to report a marked change in her son, now attending school regularly, helping at the house and not straying out of the house at night. It was encouraging. Now, in January 2012, Thera is back in school and has been made a Peer-Educator in recognition of his turn around.

More importantly though, Thera’s gang have dropped arms against their peers and are looking to de-escalate the situation in Kuyasa as community members appeal for peace. It’s a small success in what has become one of Khayelitsha’s most dangerous districts.

Chatting to Thera yesterday he cited the importance of Waves for Change in his decisions to quit gang life and educate his peers. The lessons he learned about Peer Pressure, choosing the right friends and acheiving his goals motivated him to stop fighting. Further more, he sighted the lessons about role modeling – often played out through adapted lifesaving and life-rescuing games – as a motivating factor in him talking to his fellow gang members and encouraging them to quit. It’s a first for Kuyasa and we are stoked to have been part of this process.

But the job is far from done. Returning yesterday from the beach through the Enkanini district, we turned back as up to 100 youths blocked the bridge and began a pitched battle as onlookers took shelter. How many gangs are operating in the area is not clear, but there is a way ahead and the more young role models we can create the better.

Waves for Change is one of several cogs in the process, with local social workers also active on the ground doing great work. 1 thing is clear, the future lies in collaboration, sharing resources and providing educational and engaging alternatives to street life.