Township gangs are an increasing national problem and the township of Sebokeng in the Vaal Triangle is no exception. The community has been plagued with gang violence since 2010. It is alleged that many gang members are unemployed or impoverished youth who rob businesses and steal from people in order to live. Unregistered and therefore illegal initiation schools in the area, subvert the complex and rich history of traditional male, cultural initiation, reportedly feeding gangs with new members. Some initiates who attend these schools are as young as 13 and do so willingly because they aspire to gang life. But in many instances, young boys are allegedly kidnapped during the night and taken to these schools against their and their parents’ will. Their families are often extorted into paying a ransom for their return.
The Wrong Turns is the most notorious gang in Sebokeng. Members can be recognised by the pangas they carry and by the trail of destruction they leave behind them. The gang has turf wars with rival gangs in the area and allegedly does not hesitate to stab anyone who gets in their way. Residents say members rape young girls and terrorise patrons and management at taverns they attack. 24-year-old Katara is the leader of the Wrong Turns, for him and many gang members like him, the gang is their family. Despite his alleged criminal behaviour and habit of inhaling glue, Kataga is a talented hip-hop musician but what chance does he have of becoming a successful musician without proper gang and drug rehabilitation?
Several years ago, the ward counsellor and local police put a rehabilitation programme in place for youth involved in gangs in the area. The programme was meant to help them exit the gangs and make better choices in their lives. Not long after the programme ended, gang life returned to normal. Kataga says this was because the police did not provide alternatives, like employment, for youth like him.
Ward counsellor Lahliwe Rapapadi and committee member of the ward council, Jacob Mokgwaba say that the community is fed-up with living in terror of being attacked. They fear what will happen when the community takes matters into their own hands to mete out justice to gangsters. Their previous frustration saw them burning down houses where gang members were known to live.
Special Assignment enters the world of the Wrong Turns and brings you exclusive footage of how they operate. We go undercover and speak to an unregistered sangoma and initiator, both of whom are alleged to be running an illegal initiation school that feeds gangs in the area with new members.
Watch Young Lives, Wrong Turns produced by Lee McCabe for Special Assignment. Broadcast Sundays on SABC3 at 20h30, repeated Wednesdays at 23h30