Hope In The Darkness: Reaching schools in PE’s gangland

Reaching out with rap at Gelvandale High School, Port Elizabeth.

[notice]Helenvale in Port Elizabeth has gained notoriety as the worst gangster violence hotspot in the city and one of the most dangerous places in South Africa. But for the people who live there, this small, poor, Northern Areas suburb is home. This article, is the first in a series of Hope In The Darkness stories about people in and close to the community who believe that there is a hope and a future for Helenvale and other troubled, Northern Areas hotspots. Stories about people who are doing something special to bring hope and change in the area. People who believe that Jesus is the answer.[/notice]

The battle to take back gangster-riddled Port Elizabeth Northern Areas from the forces of evil is being waged on various fronts. And one of these is reaching out to local schoolchildren  with a message of hope for their future.

Yesterday I accompanied Victory Ministries International (VMI) and the SA Police Services on a visit to Gelvandale High School. The visit was part of the second wave of an ongoing schools-police outreach that started in February.

In fact yesterday’s outreach was the team’s 22nd school visit in two weeks, and its second of the morning. But you would never have guessed it as team members, wearing  “Genoeg Is Genoeg” t-shirts,  put their energies into connecting with the hundreds of well-behaved teenage girls and boys assembled in the quad.

Gelvandale High learners showing their appreciation for the event

Some of the learners were invited to get down to hip-hop beats as their teachers watched. Then everybody worshiped to the music of the school’s own “jazz gospel band”. Even the Muslim kids, who had been respectfully whisked away to an upstairs classroom, stole peeks through windows and were clearly enjoying the festive  vibe. It would have been easy for a casual observer to conclude that this was just about young folk enjoying a good time on a lovely sunny winter’s morning in PE.

But one of the team members, a visibly emotional Clayton Goezar, brought the reason for the event into clear focus when he said that his heart had been broken at their earlier visit to Chapman High School yesterday. The visit had reminded him of a former Chapman High learner, Keanon “Oubaas” Lombard, who was recently shot dead by gangsters in Helenvale as he was walking home from a church youth meeting. Goezar, a former Gelvandale High learner said his own father had been a gangster drug lord who used “laaities” to sell drugs, just like the drug lords behind the present terror in Helenvale. When Goezar was 11-years-old his father died in a hail of bullets.

Goezar said that as a young man he had made a decision to stand against drugs and gangsterism. He challenged the Gelvandale High learners to follow his example and to  do something positive towards taking a stand against the evils in their community.

“You can become what others said you cannot be,” he said, encouraging learners to pursue high career goals.

Police chaplain Alain Waljee urged the learners to “make friends with the police”.

“We want to be your friends. We don’t want to catch you,” he said.

He said he regularly visited young gangsters in prison. “They cry there. It is not lekker there. It’s not the life you want to live. Don’t hijack your future by choosing the wrong friends. You can have a future if you choose right!”

“Drugs is Gevaarlik”

A highlight of the event was a new rap song performed by teen rapper  Jean-Mikyle Roos, 16, who became a local celebrity in February when he penned and performed a rap song called “Genoeg is Genoeg!” (“Enough is Enough!”). The song captures the mood of many people in the Northern Areas who are fed-up with the drug scene and violence that are forced on them by a minority of community members. Roos’s school, Andrew Rabie High gave him permission to accompany the outreach team on visits to 10 Northern Areas schools during the February campaign. In the current campaign he has his school’s blessing to visit 26 schools. His new rap is entitled “Drugs is Gevaarlik” (“Drugs are Dangerous”) and describes in some detail the dangers of dagga, “pille”, “tik” and more.

I asked Gelvandale High principal Desmond Nichol what he thought of the outreach initiative. He said he supported it wholeheartedly, as it was done in a way that connected with the learners. While the school was not experiencing a problem of drugs on the campus, he was aware that some of his learners used drugs and some even worked for drug lords who used young people to do their dirty and dangerous work. In the past three years about three of his learners had been shot dead in gangster-related violence.

The VMI-police outreach to schoolchildren has also featured mass concert-type events in the area and the church has plans to stage a major drama project that will target children and their parents.

Watch an excerpt of the “Drugs is Gevaarlik” rap as performed at Gelvandale High School yesterday:


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