Leon Jacobs, 40, previously from Tafelsig and now living in Kuils River, was 15 years old when he dropped out of school and got caught up with the wrong crowd.
He got involved in gangsterism to survive and also fathered a child at a young age.
Now the former gangster and drug addict is helping others who have turned their backs on gangs and drugs, to rebuild their lives.
His mother raised five boys. Life wasn’t easy and he wanted to change the situation at home and become a provider.
“In the 90s a gang war broke out in our area. They hijacked my partner at the time, raped and killed her.
“They falsely accused me of this crime and I spent two years and eight months in Pollsmoor Prison. As they did their investigations, they found that I had no part in this crime through a tip they received from a witness,” he said.
During his teens, however, Mr Jacobs had been in and out of prison, having been involved in many criminal activities – the only life he knew, he said.
When he was 28, he was released from prison. At the time, Mr Jacobs said, he was a senior in the gang he belonged to and started selling drugs to make money.
But he also started using drugs, to which he became addicted. It was around the time of the gang war, said Mr Jacobs, that “I wanted to turn away from gangsterism, I didn’t want to be in a gang anymore.”
When he returned home, however, he and his twin brother got into a fight during which he stabbed his brother, who later died.
After his brother’s death, he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, and couldn’t sleep at night.
Hoping to help him out of his turmoil, his uncle invited him to church and, wanting to transform his life, he agreed.
Mr Jacobs is now a pastor of his own church called Kingdom Christian Church at the Northwood Community Hall and he is also the founder of the Leon Jacobs Foundation where he helps people who have been through similar situations to his.
His wife, Natalene Jacobs said he cares for people and loves people. “He is an inspiration to many. He reaches the lost and helps them in the best way he can. He is a great leader and he is raising up young people with a fire in their heart to be better,” she said.
His colleague, Leroy Ryneveld said they grew up together in Tafelsig and that as young boys, “we both made bad decisions in life, being addicted to drugs, choosing a life of crime”.
He added:“Leon inspired me to change when I saw he made a decision to turn his life around.
“Looking back and seeing what is happening in his life is so amazing. I am really so proud of the person he has become,” he said.
“If you can’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
“We try to instill this into the young people we have the privilege of working with in Mitchell’s Plain.
“People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” he said.
For more information contact Mr Jacobs at 076 104 3538 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.leonjacobsfoundation.org.za