We can’t change the history of gang violence, but we can make gangs history
Gangs spare no one. From children born in prisons to bystanders caught in the crossfire, they have claimed and controlled countless lives for generations. And every day, more people sign up, disillusioned by society and lured in by the prospect of reputation, power and wealth. In an attempt to change the culture of gangsterism, Wandisile Nqeketho initiated a creative way to show gang involvement for what it really is – before the youth are pulled in for good.
An entrepreneur at heart, Nqeketho wanted to contribute to the community where he grew up. So he co-founded the 18 Gangster Museum, a name he derived by adding the names of the country’s biggest gangs – the 26s, 27s and 28s – to get 81, inverting the total to reflect his goal of using what’s there to turn things around. Housed in a mobile shipping container, the museum tells the history of South African gangs and teaches people what involvement entails. The consequences of gang membership and prison are brought to life by an immersive experience that features art and installations from ex-prisoners, as well as conversations with former gangsters. Countering the belief that you can either be on the receiving end of gang violence or the one committing it, the museum emphasises other positive options. “When we understand the reasons that lead these young people into gangs, that’s when we can find proper solutions to deal with gangs,” Nqeketho says.
In addition to driving home harsh truths, the innovative approach acknowledges and aims to direct the potential of the youth before it goes to pieces. Posters featuring the late Nelson Mandela imagine him covered in tattoos, asking us to consider how different it would have been if, like so many others, his future was destroyed by gang membership. It’s a powerful, disturbing image. However, if we are to take on gangsterism, it’s necessary not only to fight the negative, but consider alternatives and nurture the capabilities the youth possess. While we can’t change the history of gang violence, Nqeketho is working towards making gangs history.