HE FIRST went to prison when he was 16, for armed robbery – the first step that elevated his rank in the prison’s numbers gang.
Caught up in the system, hustling to get by in the streets of Elsies River and consumed by the code of “the number”, former gang boss Ernie “Lastig” Solomons, right, says he is one of the “lucky ones” because he survived.
A film about his life called A Lucky Man is about to go on circuit.
The 54-year-old says he has turned his life around in the past 11 years.
He hopes that the film will speak to those, particularly youngsters, trapped in the gang underworld.
In the 1990s Solomons was listed among the “big five” gang leaders who were still free and whom the police had vowed to convict for gang activity, but never did.
Ten years ago, Solomons also made the news when he recorded hip hop CDs of songs encouraging the youth to stay away from gangsterism, and for his interest in racing pigeons.
He claims he is finished with gangsterism.
He lives in Hawston – a fishing village near Hermanus.
When asked how he had been spending his days, a smiling Solomons said: “I’m a fisherman.”
“And I’m studying,” he added.
He said he had made the movie “for the youngsters” – those living in the ganglands of the Cape Flats.
“Because, they won’t be as lucky as I am. Many of them live until 20, 16, 30.” They would not have “the luxury” of telling their stories as he had.
Solomons said about three quarters of the movie applied to his life.
He was emotional – particularly after watching a scene in which he was put in a police van and had his face cut by other inmates who had been sentenced to death.
Solomons said he had mulled things over for 11 years before deciding to try something new.
“In 2001… I thought ‘what can I do to prove to people that the deeds I’ve been involved in – I don’t want to be that person’.
“I want to help my people, tell them the truth of what’s going to happen to them because there’s no future for us, the reason I survived – I was lucky,” he said.
The movie begins with the story of Solomons as a young boy and ends with a message to those trapped in the spiral of drugs, violence and gangsterism and the “numbers gang.”
“Think about yourself, before you go into the number, because it’s not real,” he said.
Movie director, script writer and cinematographer Gordon Clark said when he set out on the venture he aimed to give insight into a community that was “not easily understood”.
“I just want them to see the dysfunction of this community in a subtle way,” he said.