Feebearing - 140326 - Cape Town - The Cape Argus went to Tafelsig to interview a selection of gangsters from the area. A community member known to locals as Uncle Charles is working with the gang members to try and get them out of the dangerous lifestyle and accomplish their dreams. Pictured: Hard Livings members holding up their hand sign. REPORTER: ZODIDI DANO. PICTURE: WILLEM LAW.

The Western Cape provincial government is funding many programmes to help vulnerable young people uplift their lives, writes Dan Plato.

Cape Town - Whenever a discussion around gang violence starts one of the first concerns raised is usually about a lack of opportunities for the youth, such as “the government needs to provide more recreational facilities.”

The reality is that the Western Cape government invests heavily in the youth of this province, with a strong focus on the high crime affected communities.

One of the key focus areas under our Strategic Objective of Increasing Safety, is reducing the motivators for crime to occur.

We have paid particular attention to the youth, and most specifically, the youth at risk and removing those motivators that youth experience which could lead to crimes.

Projects such as our Youth, Safety and Religion Partnership Project which started at the end of 2012 is a project that we run in conjunction with partners to provide alternative options for the youth.

Running from one successful holiday period to another, we have provided almost R2.5 million in financial assistance to 96 religious organisations working to develop youth social crime intervention initiatives on a local level and in areas affected by gang violence and high levels of crime in the Western Cape. Close to 20 000 youth have already benefitted from this programme.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in this province runs after-school sport MOD (Mass Participation, access to Opportunity, and Development) centres between 2pm and 6pm at schools without proper sporting facilities across the province.

Most MOD centres are in high-crime areas like Khayelitsha, Delft, Lavender Hill, Nyanga, Elsies River, Mitchells Plain, and, most recently, six additional MOD centres were launched in Manenberg.

Qualified sporting coaches and equipment are provided by the department at these centres for children to take part in various sporting codes, including cricket, soccer, baseball, netball and others in a safe environment, for free.

Another project, the Youth Work Programme run by the Western Cape Department of Community Safety has had great successes and will see the establishment of a further 1 400 job opportunities for unemployed youth.

This is in addition to the hundreds of tertiary education opportunities that this department has facilitated with our FET college partners.

Youth who were once gangsters, drug addicts, and social delinquents, are now studying engineering, safety and security, welding and many other courses – they have chosen to change their lives and grab the opportunities that we bring to them.

The Chrysalis Youth Academy for youth at risk, an educational institute developed and funded by this government, remains at the forefront of the department's attempts to address the safety challenges facing young people. An estimated 600 youth from all over the Western Cape undergo training at the academy annually.

The department is not only the main funder of the academy, but also makes it possible for the graduates to access work opportunities created under the Expanded Public Works Programme.

Graduates from the academy are placed on a nine-month internship with public safety partnerships throughout the Western Cape.

So far, the department has formalised safety partnerships with 96 organisations and placed more than 450 Chrysalis graduates as interns at a cost of R9.1m.

Most of these programmes are run in previously disadvantaged communities where the youth often feel they have no future.

This administration believes in creating a society of opportunity, and that is exactly what we have been doing with our budget – we are creating opportunities and our youth at risk are grabbing them with both hands.

Some of these young people, who are part of our Chrysalis Programme, and part of our FET partnership, attended my budget speech last month.

One was a school dropout, but is now a third year mechanical engineering student at Northlink thanks to the partnership that we have with FET colleges.

Another young man was once a substance abuser, and asked for help – he was subsequently was enrolled at the academy and is now an exemplary second-year student in safety and security at an FET college.

One of the young girls who attended, was also a substance abuser, and had spent time in jail.

She chose to turn her life around, and joined the Religious Leaders Youth Programme last year and is still actively involved to the extent she has now become a youth co-ordinator.

There are many more young people with similar stories. They could only change their lives because they were presented with the opportunities and took advantage of them.

By providing our youth at risk with training, and following up with job opportunities, we are making our communities safer from within.

These youth become an inspiration to their peers who often hopeless – until they see their friends or relatives prospering through the guidance provided by this government. This is “Better Together” in action.

For these interventions to be fully effective, they need to run in an environment where the police deliver a quality service to our communities with high levels of visible policing and arrests that result in convictions. We also need parents to know what their children are doing, where they are, and to take responsibility for them.

It is important to understand what the role of government is, and what our roles as parents, religious organisations, carers and communities are.

Nelson Mandela once said: “Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment.”

* Dan Plato is the Western Cape MEC of Community Safety.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

Cape Argus