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In a society that lacks opportunity for the majority of South African youth, does the idealisation of the flashy gangster and prosperous thug life inspire young boys and men to adopt the attitudes and actions that will too, in their mind, help them overcome adversity and establish their place in society?Danielle Hoffmeester looks at the societal issues that lead to gangsterism.Recently again, I heard rumours of an alleged high-ranking gangster moving into my community, and of how people who had resided in the area for most of their lives were now packing up and trying to sell their homes before a gang war broke out- an inevitability, they thought.
Don Pinnock, in his book ‘Gang Town’ noted that proposed solutions to gangsterism are general, unworkable, and lack analytic precision.
Efforts at combatting gang activity need to have a holistic and integrated analysis that includes much more than the regular response: Lock them up and throw away the key.
Furthermore, Cooper noted the marginalisation of these young men who used the gang institution to compensate for the disempowerment of their socio-historical context.
The topic of masculinity is one I revisit time and again because it affects the very lives of other, often marginalised identities, and because it is such a long-running enigma for many men.
There had been two stabbings and a fatal shooting in one week where I live.
Word-of-mouth warnings to avoid certain spots at particular hours spread.Public perception within these communities are that the police are incompetent or in cahoots with gangs.As much as it pains community members to admit it, many believe that gangs rule their respective areas.He asked the boys, aged 16 and 17 years old, about initiation practices, and was told that initiation was referred and related to displays of fearlessness and the need to prove oneself; to be devoid of fear, to be which literally translates as ‘strong bones’.Cooper noted that sterkbene is an ongoing process that is never fulfilled; it is constantly re-enacted through violence, like killings and rapes.With the ubiquity of mass communication which, problematically, portrays stereotypical and harmful representations of masculinity, it is of little wonder that manhood is equated with violence, aggression, blind bravery, and unwavering strength.The idealisation of the flashy gangster and prosperous thug life, represented both in urban music and in the homes, is what inspires young boys and men to adopt the attitudes and actions that will too, in their mind, help them overcome adversity and establish their place in society.Apart from understanding how apartheid has disenfranchised black people, and how its consequences of poverty and unemployment intersect and create gangs, it is imperative to consider and comprehend how ideas about manhood and masculinity impact boys, in particular, and how they perceive gangs, and why the latter appeals to them.Gang violence must be understood within the context of entrenched socio-cultural notions about male superiority and privilege, as well as the social impact and legacy of apartheid, political exclusion, and unemployment on generations of young black men.With limited spaces of respectability open for boys to enter into, they search for alternative avenues to access respect, attention, and power.To stunt the proliferation of gangs and halt violence in its myriad forms, we must interrogate, challenge, and change ideas of masculinity. Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.