by Brian Williams
Absolute joy was mirrored on the faces of young boys who were provided with small gift packs at a peace event on 12 December 2020.
Peace Ambassadors arranged a peace messaging event in partnership with PS4Life (Play Sport for Life) at a location known in Afrikaans as “Die Gat” (English – “the hole”).
This area is viewed as one of the most dangerous areas of the Kensington-Factreton community of Cape Town.
I observed intently and witnessed a playful innocence as these boys waited for “something to happen”. Some of them sat quietly on the field while a few of the boys at the back were throwing little pebbles at those in the front rows. There were giggles as the boys teasingly blamed one another.
Carolyn Inglis from PS4Life, expressed happiness with the 200 boys who attended the event. Carolyn said that sport can play a strategic role in promoting peace and producing alternative role models. PS4Life was established by Miles October, a renowned philanthropist.
Unless there is a positive disruption of the cycle of violence, regrettably many of these boys will become the victims of direct violence as they grow older. They live where violence is embedded in the arteries of the environment. The streets look unhappy and stressed and dirt is strewn everywhere.
There is a heavy dullness and an air of negativity is palpable where these boys are growing up. A large number are either unemployed or dependent on social grants to survive.
The underground economy operated by drug merchants and shebeens thrive in this trauma fuelled area. The role models tend to be those with money and fancy clothes and those who profit from the misery of others in the community. These are the icons of power. They demonstrate strength in conditions of powerlessness.
In these circumstances, impressionable boys grow up surrounded by compromised symbols and social codes that determine human value.
The peace project was focused on young boys of primary school age because this demographic gets drawn into a web of violent behaviour. At a socio-cultural level this abnormality is seen as normal. Structural violence drives many boys to become involved in acts of cultural and direct violence.
Research shows that this age group of boys are the ones who are usually recruited to perform various functions needed by drug dealers and gang leaders. Some of them hide guns, carry weapons, act as spies and transport goods in service of the “gang leaders” of non-state armed groups in the communities.
These functions identify these boys as “child soldiers” according to the international definition of a child soldier.
A child soldier is “any person below 18 years of age who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys, and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes”. (Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups.)
The Colombian Family Welfare Institute has reported that over 80% of child soldiers are “voluntary” recruits — often forced by their socio-economic conditions, lack of education and family abuse to enlist in armed groups. A study released on 12 June 2020 by the Mexican Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, lists Cape Town as the 8th most dangerous city in the world.
Peace is the solution. It was inspirational to see 17 year old Peace Ambassador, Faith Julius speaking with such warmth and encouragement to the young boys assembled on the field.
Faith told the boys that it was important to respect their sisters, mothers, grandmothers and their neighbours. She explained why boys should be Peace Warriors and protectors of girls. She said that they must stay safe and grow up with love in their hearts.
Crystal Erasmus, a University of the Western Cape (UWC) graduate who now lives in Kensington explained that she grew up in Manenberg and that circumstances must not define who we are.
Chanell Fontini one of the Peace Ambassadors who lives in the affected area, added her pearls of wisdom. She echoed that respect was the most important thing in life. She said that positive peace is important and that the Peace Ambassadors in the community will continue to be there for the boys.
Beyoncè Crouch and Joy February, two teenagers were coordinators who helped to put the event together. It was heartwarming to see how these young people had organized themselves.
Kevin Inglis, a dedicated community leader of “Community First” a human rights organization thanked everyone. He explained the importance of having inner peace and praised the groundbreaking work of Peace Ambassadors to promote peace in the area. Peace Ambassadors he said, showed they can successfully challenge the narrative of violence.
Inglis proudly explained that since the start of 2020, no killings happened and that alternative role models for peace were emerging.
*Professor Brian Williams is a Visiting Professor in fields of Peace, Mediation and Labour Relations, University of the Sacred Heart, Uganda, and chief executive: Williams Labour Law and Mediation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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