Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Gangs

On the first day as we were reviewing the photos shot yesterday I noticed that in nearly every frame of  young people in the community that they were making signs with their hands, often different signs. When I asked the class about this on the first day I just got some pretty vague answers, they did not seem to want to elaborate

Yesterday as we were reviewing photos, there was this frame of these rather cute looking very young kids making the hand gestures

When I asked this time the class became quite animated and told us that it was very sad that these children were making the sign associated with one of the 'numbers' gangs and told us a little at least about them at least

They told us how in their township with a simply massive unemployment rate of +/- 70 or 80 percent (there is no hard and fast data, simply the vast majority has no jobs) bored teenagers and young adults turn to crime as one said if you make it to 20 without going to jail it is a miracle

And when they are in prison they simply have to join a 'numbers' gang for their own protection or face violence or rape.

And of course the numbers 'gangs' thrive on the outside too, with many young children looking up to them as being the powerbase within the townships, which is why they make the signs of the gangs

When we started to expand the conversation some of the students spoke of how they have turned their backs on the gangs and are seeking a different path. At a conservative estimate I think about 40 percent of the class have been in a numbers gangs. And that is just the students who spoke of their previous membership.

We asked how dangerous it was at night one said 'it is a 1000 times more dangerous at night but it is always dangerous, more dangerous than you realise'

I recounted to the class of how Katherine Holley and I started to feel uneasy, in potential danger, a kind of fear that you cannot quite put your finger on, and how we turned back to the community centre.(On reflection two white people walking alone in the townships dripping in thousands of dollars of DSLRs is not very wise.)

One of the class said yes 'you got that feeling, but 15,000 people in this township get that feeling EVERY day'

Is it any wonder that the 'numbers' gangs thrive


David Getsfrid said...

It's amazing how we can feel terrified walking around downtown at night with a dslr in plain sight, when the stuff these kids have to be terrified of is so much greater. It's super cool what you're doing down there. Even if it only brings about a minor change, any change for good in the world is a change worth working for.

Unknown said...

Hi David

Thanks for your comment

At the end of the day we do get to walk away and return to our comfortable lives, but they have to live in a potentially hostile environment

Hopefully this project will bring about some real change in terms of personal development of the class



Kevin Halliburton said...

I noticed the signs too and figured that was the gist of it. It is the main reason this project is so important Drew. The culture you've described relies on darkness to thrive. A camera in the right hands is a light that exposes truth and inspires change.

Who knows when a father, or big brother, will look at that image of children, so eager to follow in their footsteps, and feel the weight of their responsibility in a new way.

That one image opened an important dialog among your students. Posting it here opened that dialog to the world.

Here I am, so far away, contemplating and talking about that student's insightful voice. One moment, frozen and real. Innocent smiles masking the darkness of the likely future those children will face. We can't turn away now because there it is. What if we keep looking, because now we can? What if we turn away and and we are confronted with another picture, by another student, that says the same thing in a different way?

You aren't just handing them a camera; You are handing them a voice. Of all the lessons you teach this week, I hope the implications of that one sink in the most.

Unknown said...

Dear Kevin

You are spot in in so many ways

The students work has already started to have an effect in terms of empowerment and confidence

So many members of the class have real potential



TheArtfulBurner said...

I can understand how kids turn to crime when they can't contribute to their society in a constructive way. What I'd like to know is what the government, local or national, is doing to keep them in this condition. Do they have suppresive laws on the age that children are allowed to work from? Do they have suppresive minimum wage laws that prevent kids from learning how to be more valuable? There will be something like that. People who are poor want things and can produce things if they are allowed to.

Unknown said...

Dear Artfulburner

Good points well made

I must say as an outsider I am unfamiliar with the finer points of employment laws etc

But what I would say is that since I last worked in the townships in the 1990's there has been insufficient effort and engagement from the government and local authorities with the informal settlements, so it just becomes a self perpetuating scenario.

The authorities cannot be expected to wave a magic wand of course, but what I would say is that there are a sufficient number of keen, hard working and GOOD people in the community that if they were given the opportunity to shine they would.

I feel that some of this class at least want to take photography further forward when I have left

But what impressed me the most is that many of the street gangs looked up to some of the students and what they were achieving away from gangsterism and that they thought it was cool

Thank you for leaving such considered,intelligent comments, please do spread the word



Rachel Elizabeth Seed said...

Wow, Drew, what you are witnessing there is intense. I am sure your positive energy and encouragement are making a positive difference. Maybe what you are doing will lead to a ripple, however small or large, of awareness and change. (yes, I'm an idealist, but we have to start somewhere!)

Unknown said...

Hey Rachel

Thank you very much for your comment

Idealism is a good not a bad thing, as you well know

What are we if we sacrifice our beliefs and values?

This project has moved me greatly and made me ask many questions about myself



Pol said...

Just stay safe.

Unknown said...

Thanks Pol

We will