A group of Mitchell’s Plain men, who call themselves Agents of Change, want to transform their community, using their past experience of gangsterism and drugs, by feeding their neighbours and keeping the children occupied with sports, gardening and art.
Owen Barnard, 49, from Rocklands; Jeremy Joseph, 38, from Portland; Ashley Philander, 47, from Westridge; and Barry Ryan Abrahams, 35, from Portland, met in 2019 during a City of Cape Town programme, which created a safe space for men to speak about the challenges they face as men.
After the programme they continued working on themselves and decided to work in their communities.
They entertained children at a EMS vaxi taxi vaccination programme at Duneside Primary School in Westridge on Saturday November 27.
Mr Barnard said some boys at the face-painting table marked their cheeks with the gang numbers in black-paint.
“It was sad to see,” he said.
He made a point of cleaning the boy’s cheek and spoke to him.
The boy said to him: “It does not matter, I’m going to die anyway”.
Mr Barnard said after a while the boy’s demeanour changed because someone had cared to talk to him.
He said their work was not about self-gain but about a passion to move forward with the community.
In the meantime they have completed various programmes with the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre, the City and other community organisations to equip themselves will the skills and knowledge they need to teach others.
They started a garden across from the centre, in Eastridge, have regular sports days and try to cook meals weekly, depending on the availability of ingredients and gas.
Mr Barnard said they would like to be self-sufficient and establish a non-profit company providing services to the community and use the income to plough back.
“It is about us as men taking care of our responsibilities and taking our place in society,” he said.
Mr Barnard said many people still believed that the unemployed simply did not want to work. Their position, he said, was that “we are going to beat this cycle of poverty and do something to man up”.
Mr Abrahams said they want to change the mindset and behaviour of the community and be the example many fatherless households lack.
He said the programmes allowed him to speak openly about the challenges men faced in their community daily.
“It is how I learned to speak in a group and facilitate activities. It changed me as a person. I can now talk in front of groups and workshops,” said Mr Abrahams.
He also learned to listen, control his anger and speak about his feelings in front of other men “openly and confidently.
Mr Philander said he was never on drugs but he was a gangster and that in his youth a neighbourhood watch member would speak to him and offer him something to eat.
“It is with that person’s help that I am where I am today and I would like to be that for another child,” he said.
To support the men and for more information call Mr Philander on 065 150 9593.