The work they do not only brings a glimmer of hope to a community ravaged by gang violence, drugs and abject poverty, but no matter how little it seems; they make a huge difference in the individual lives they influence.
Under the leadership of Pastor Craven Engel, CeaseFire Hanover Park operates from the second floor of the First Community Resource Centre, a church ministry that runs a number of outreach programs.
In a 10 minute documentary titled War in the Valley of Plenty, which you can watch further below, the AJ+ global news community not only follows the activities of the CeaseFire workers but also focuses on the story of Tessie, a young father who grew up knowing nothing other than a life of gangsterism and violence, but now wants to turn his life around for the sake of his children.
Cape Town is hailed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and also as one of the richest cities in South Africa.
This picture-perfect image presented to tourists belies the daily ugliness faced by communities in Coloured & Black townships that lie on the outskirts of the city.
The problems of drugs and gangsterism coupled with high levels of poverty are undoubtedly related to the housing developments introduced as part of the Apartheid spatial planning model that followed the forced removals due to the Group Areas Act signed into law on 27 April 1950.
This nefarious spatial planning model is still followed when new housing developments are created around Cape Town.
All is however not doom and gloom and though the societal problems that come with these kinds of housing developments will not simply be erased by these kinds of programs, these programs are making a difference and we should hail them for that.
Founded in Illinois, USA in 1995 by Dr Gary Slutkin, CeaseFire takes a public health approach to fighting gun violence. It employs former gang members as “violence interrupters” who develop relationships over time with people considered at-risk for committing acts of violence. Through these relationships, the interrupters try to dissuade these would-be aggressors from turning to guns to solve conflicts.
Funded by the city of Cape Town, CeaseFire Hanover Park, according to an article on the Roads and Kingdoms website, employs a small staff of people with deep ties to local gangs. When they evaluate a potential hire, supervisors use a table that lists categories like “groups where credible” (essentially a list of local gangs and factions) and “areas of credibility.” The more boxes an applicant has, the more valuable they are to CeaseFire – although every hire eventually works with other staff members to gain credibility in all areas of the community.
Being a successful CeaseFire worker involves much more than just having the right rap sheet. Outreach workers like Albert Matthews spend much of their time driving through Hanover Park, stopping to talk with gang members and establish the kind of social connections that will help them glean information about when or where conflicts are likely to arise. When an outburst is likely, violence interrupters, a separate job, meet with local gang leaders, working to resolve conflict through nonviolent means and dissuade gangs from using violence as a strategy or for retaliation.
CeaseFire Hanover Park also makes extensive use of technology in their drive to prevent gang violence from flaring up.
Using Dimagi’s CommCare platform, the Safety Lab has developed a system for CeaseFire to more efficiently and effectively capture data on evolving trends in gang violence in the area so that the programme can better predict, and try to prevent, violence. The system has also freed up field workers to focus on violence intervention and prevention work on the streets, rather than expending countless hours culling through paper-based logistical work in the office.
Though we are sure it is not a cure-all and that many other interventions need to take place before any major decrease in gang activity will be seen, we at Bruinou.com wonder whether and how the CeaseFire program can successfully be duplicated and tailor-made for other gang-infested communities across South Africa.
Watch War in the Valley of Plenty