Raising a ‘beacon in the valley’

Colin Lewis, left, 43, and Monray Erasmus, 31.

A former gangster and a drug addict say they grew up without father figures and raised themselves on the streets.

The two men joined El-Shaddai Christian Life Ministries for a prayer meeting, on Saturday July 21. It was held in the heart of Beacon Valley, where several people were killed in gang warfare last week (“Gang war rages,” Plainsman July 18).

Former gangster, Colin Lewis, 43, from Eastridge, was born and raised in Heideveld by his single mother of five children who had to fend for themselves in life.

Colin was 11 when he first became a gangster.

“I took on this life to survive. Hanging with older boys felt good, it felt as though I belonged since I had no father present in my life. To sit at their feet and listen to their wisdom was everything to me as a little boy. This is how I was changed into their liking.”

Colin and his family moved to Beacon Valley when he was 17 when his mom received a house from the council.

He did not finish school, even though his mother encouraged him to.

“Today’s youth don’t know what they are doing. Gangsters who are not from this area come very far to recruit our young people from our community. I know this because I was still very young. This gang issue does not happen in our area alone; it is happening all over the country. This problem is not a small one, it is big. This gets carried over from generation to generation. It is a cycle.”

Colin got involved in gangsterism because his father was involved. They shot his father when he was younger and he felt it fit to become a gangster as well.

“How can we break this cycle? Mitchell’s Plain is a safe haven for the underworld business. Mitchell’s Plain is targeted, as they say, a gold mine to breed gangsters. The government has a role to play as well. How many homes aren’t broken up because of gangsterism? How many innocent people are affected by gangsterism?

“Mitchell’s Plain is a big house, with its family, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins. We should start living like a family; we cannot kill our brothers and sisters, we must look out for one another,” said Colin.

After his long struggle to turn from gangsterism, he decided to stop and started his organisation, Nationwide Projects/Platform of God.

Hethenmoved from his mother’s house to a house at a church in Eastridge.

He previously ran a programme that taught boys life skills and how to make money other than turning to gangsterism.

“This was my me-
thod of keeping them off the street and showing them that they do not need to be a gangster to survive,” said Colin.

Monray Erasmus, 31, from Eastridge, was close friends with gang members and hung out with them, but he never joined a gang.

“The issue in gangsterism is recruiting. They have a method of recruiting. My dad was an absent father all my life, and, at 16, my stepfather walked into our lives,” he said.

“I had this urge to make money. My mother earned enough for us to live, but I wanted more. I went after what my friends had, the name brands.”

In his high school years, he became in-
volved in substance abuse. He would smuggle drugs at Beacon Hill High School when he was 17. This was an easy market for him.

“We never really had much, so my dream was to become the biggest drug dealer in town. I was 20 when guys from Durban came to the community, posed as another profession but came to recruit us to manufacture drugs. I still smuggled at home but wanted more. I felt like I destroyed so many lives. Manipulation from these guys made it even worse to get out.”

When he came from Durban, he blew all the money he earned and faced his reality once again. It went from bad to worse, he said.

Monray started using drugs when he was 16. When he was 24 he had met someone but was still addicted to drugs. He then had to decide what he wanted – to be part of the gang or choose the one he loved.

At 25, his partner became concerned about his wellbeing and asked him to stop using drugs.

“I had to choose between my partner or doing drugs. My love for her withstood my urge to do drugs. I did not want to lose her. I was delivered from drugs instantly. The difficult part was when my partner left for work. I wasn’t working at the time, which left me alone at home. My friend nurtured me, encouraged me from day to day, reassuring me that I am not alone in this.

“Things are way worse than it was back then. The ages of gangsters are much younger this time around. There is a lot of help, but people never get to hear from it, and this is how my organisation, Why Don’t You Come Too, started, although it is still in the process of being registered.

“I started this organisation this year to help people like me with their identity, to groom their gifts and fellowship with others.

“The biggest problem we still face is absent fathers among gangsters. It is so easy to fall into gangsterism, because when you don’t have money, people will tap into that and use you to their liking,” said Monray.

Pastor Lincoln Olivier, of El-Shaddai Christian Life Ministries, hosted the prayer meeting with the community to pray against gang violence.

“It is time for us to get out of this bubble we live in and get out, into the streets, into people’s lives so that we can impact those for the better,” he said.

His wife, Pastor Edwina Olivier said: “Even with the little people here today, we are showing that we are standing up, even if we are a few. Next week there will be more and so it follows. This church is a ‘beacon in the valley’.”

Workers in the field of drug and violence rehabilitation have echoed Colin and Monray’s sentiments.

Lisa Prins, from Khulisa Social Solutions, a community development organisation, said fathers played a major role in children’s lives.

“Children who have behaviour problems need to find a sense of belonging, to something. They will make bad choices in this time of their lives.

“Mothers have to provide for their children on their own and this is a lot of pressure for them. Children as young as 9 develop behavioural problems because of divorce, the fighting in the family and the absent fathers.

“Some children would roam the streets, not going to school and start stealing to survive, and some parents would encourage this because of their situation.”

Venessa Padayachee, from the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro), said: “The ages for young people involved in gangsterism are getting younger. They are used to move drugs especially in schools.”

Ashley Potts, director of Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre and deputy chairperson of the CPF said: “Gang members are using younger people to work for them and act as runners in the drug and ammunition world. Young people as young as 11 are involved in this. The Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre will be highlighting this issue. The age of drug use is generally getting younger by the day. Most of them will not disclose that they are involved in a gang when they come to the centre. When we engage with them more, we discover that they are involved in gangs and drugs.”