Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Numbers

So its been about 2 weeks since I last wrote and I've been a pretty busy body since then so i'll try and get everything down. Like I said on the last blog I had my first braii (bbq) a couple of weeks ago and had some wicked south african tukka, including boerewors (a type of south african sausage) and snoek (a popular local fish). The weather here has been perfect for a braii (bbq) almost every day though, not to rub it in or anything ;)

The work at the prison is a bit more structured now that the programme is almost up and running, with training every monday, wednesday and friday. We're having a bit of trouble getting trials organised at other prisons at the moment so we've just got the boys at drakenstein and a few others which comes to about 18 players at the moment. Its preseason so a lot of the work is on fitness, which I have been leading with circuit training etc, and then bully is taking the technical/skills drills and I usually finish by setting up the game. I'm starting to build a relationship with the lads now that I've been here nearly 3 weeks and despite being completely rubbish with names I think I've got nearly all of them, so i'll try and share the story of some of the guys on each blog post.

I'll start with Warren, who as I remember is the first person who spoke to me of the prisoners on the first day. Out of all the prisoners Warren is probably the guy who has been most involved in gangs (both in and out of prison), or is at least the most open about the issue. The other week me and bully were talking to him about gangsterism and he showed us his many tatoos across his chest and arms. A lot of the tatoos were from the gang the 26s, which is a prison gang part of the famous "Numbers Gang" that operate primarliy in the prisons of the Western Cape but are thought to control most South African prisons. The "Numbers Gang" consist of the 26s, the 27s and the 28s, with a history and story behind the meaning of the numbers and the roles of each gang. Generally in line with the story of the origins of the gangs (supposedly dating back to the 19th century), the 26s are responsible for accumulating wealth, the 27s are the lawkeepers acting as mediators between the 26s and the 28s (who never directly talk to each other), and the 28s are the warriors and responsible for fighting on behalf of all groups. These are the traditional roles of the gangs, with the 28s historically regarded as the dominant gang, but the balance of power now varies from prison to prison. In the Numbers, the rules are thorough, the rituals are orderly and the punishments are grusome and often fatal, and the fact that most of this is done in relative secrecy and without the knowledge of warders makes them one of the most feared and viscious gangs in the world.

As Warren was part of the 26s he also has a lot of tattoos to do with money, like coins and dollar signs, due to the association of the 26s with accumulating wealth. He also has tattoos of the gang he was involved with outside of prison, the JFK, or the 'Junky Funky Kids'...I know I thought the same thing "sounds pretty wacky", but there's no doubt that they mean business, in fact all of the gangs do, on the streets and in the prisons. We carried on talking about it and he said that he reckons the ratio of young gang members to non-members in the Cape Flats is about 90% to 10%.When I asked why so many young people want to join the gangs he said that as a kid you see these older guys who are gangsters driving around in flash cars and wearing nice clothes and you think "I want that", so you join a gang because not only does it offer security and protection, but also the idea of hope and opportunity. A lot of promises are made to these guys, but the reality is that in the end a lot of them end up in prison for gang related crimes. Naturally we asked Warren about the other 10% of people and why they don't join the gangs, and he explained that it was either down to good education or religion that get people away from gangs. Of course education is key to escaping poverty and crime anywhere in the world, but I was interested in his answer about religion. It seems that working in the churches offers some form of security against gansterism and crime, because generally people in South Africa are very open about their spirituality and most have some form of belief in God, so the churches are often well attended and protected by the community. When I asked Warren about his faith he seemed unsure, but he was certain that he wouldn't want to get into Christianity just as a form of protection againt crime but would rather do it for the right reasons, which I think is fair enough.

Anyway, don't want to make this blog too heavy, but if you want to know more about the gangs and their impact in the Western Cape its definitely worth watching the 'Ross Kemp on Gangs' episode on South Africa, which features a lot about the Numbers Gang in Pollsmoor prison...pretty sure you can find it on youtube. As far as stuff outside the prison academy goes its been pretty chilled. We've had a few days off here and there, so I've been trying to get out and about. I've been to the beach twice now which has been well nice. The first time me and bully went to Llandudno beach (which looks like welsh or something so i've just been calling it 'u dun know' beach) to meet up with one of the previous interns called Brian, who did the programme last year, met someone whilst he was out here and has now moved back here to study at UofCT. Its funny cos Brian is an Evertonian, but to me his accent sounded like a mixture of Liverpool and South African, which got me thinking how I'm gonna sound by the end of the year. I'm already saying soccer instead of football, which is just not on. I'm also now saying 'sure' all the time, because its used over here both in the normal sense but also as another way of saying like 'woah' or 'wow' or 'sheesh kebab', so you can either express agreement or suprise by just kind of going 'sho', which suits me being a pretty lazy linguist. Saying that I'm trying to get the guys in the prison to teach me xhosa at the moment, which is the language used by many black South Africans and is the one with all the clicks. I probably sound like an idiot just attempting it to these guys, but at least we're getting a laugh out of it.

Anyway second time at the beach was last weekend I think, when me, Dave and Tebs (one of bully's flatmates) went to Clifton beach, which is one of the more famous beaches in Cape Town. Before we went there we got up early to climb up Lions Head, which is a small peak that overlooks Cape Town. The aim was to do it in under 40mins so it was  a bit of a workout as well, which included some actual rockclimbing (with chains) which I wasn't expecting, so by the time I got to the top I was pretty knackered as you can see from the photo (great view though).

After the climb we went straight to Clifton Beach, and as it was still quite early we had this awesome beach pretty much to ourselves. After a quick dip in shark infested waters (I'm just guessing), me and Dave had a little go at football tennis over the volleyball net, and cos the sand was quite deep it was proper hard (that's my excuse anyway), but we kept at it and got pretty good actually getting some nice rallies going, I felt like a right brazilian with the beach footie skills :)

The other week I also went to Khayelitsha, which I think is the largest township in South Africa, if not definitely one of the largest, where I met Morgan who works for ambassadors and is running a project in the township to try and create some teams and give young players the opportunity to play on proper pitches. Morgan used to be the keeper for Ajax Cape Town (who are the biggest club in Cape Town), until he gave it up to pursue his passion for coaching. After meeting up, Morgan took us for a drive around Khayelitsha and it was pretty sobering to see these thounsands of little shacks that people were living in made out of just a bit of  corrugated iron and wood, especially when I'd just come from a nice community in the southern suburbs, which has brick houses, expensive shopping malls and nice cars yet is only about 15 minutes down the road. It defintely brought home the fact that despite all the good that has been done in South Africa in recent years, the gap between rich and poor is still disturbingly large. Despite the living conditions in the township though, there was still a great feeling of life and community about the place, with people walking the streets, music being played and open braai's on the go which was good to see in a way.

Anyway, in other more general news I defo need to get a car as soon as because its the only real way to get around over here, but the problem is that generally cars are a bit more expensive over here, so even if you only want an old beater its still gonna cost at best around a grand. The good thing is that the depreciation value is less so I could sell it on again at the end of the year for roughly the same price but its just about getting a car thats not gonna cause me jip (I'm thinking either a mini or a beetle). I've also joined a local football side with Bully, Dave and Morgan called Green Point, and been to a few intense training sessions already, so its good to get back into football again.We've also got a guy called Tafadzwa staying with us at the moment, who's originally from Zim but is over here studying to try to be an astronomer which is pretty cool.

At the moment I'm just chillin the night away, watching the sun set over table mountain, which isn't a bad view  by any standards. Today I've been watching a bit of the Cricket World Cup (although not for long cos Kenya got bowled out for 69), done a few taps in the backgarden and done some reading, but back to business tomorrow with an early morning workout and then off to the prison for the day.

Check ya soon x