“They say dying is the only way out.” He found another path


What is my purpose? Where do I belong? There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t asked these questions. Magadien Wentzel thought he had found his identity as a leader in the notorious 28 gang. Once someone is in that deep, death is meant to be the only escape. Wentzel found a different path.

After spending most of his adult life in and out of Pollsmoor Prison, Wentzel’s life changed when a tornado devastated Manenberg. The destruction wrought by the storm brought clarity, and Wentzel made a declaration to his fellow gang members. He would be leaving the 28s. Most people who make that choice don’t live long. Wentzel made his decision more than 15 years ago. His life and the transition into conventional society have been chronicled many times, most notably in Jonny Steinberg’s The Number, which won South Africa’s premier nonfiction award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize.

Today Wentzel has found his calling as a project manager at the Streetscape garden project. Swapping the knife for the shovel, Wentzel now teaches the principles of organic gardening and sustainable living to homeless people. The man who was a gangster has found his purpose helping others.