Picture: Clker-Free-Vector-Images/Pixabay

Cape Town - “I felt like I had to fit in and do this; I needed money. To fit in at 14, I started to hide guns for a gang. I dropped out of high school because I was chased twice by a rival gang,” said a former gunrunner for a gang and drug addict.

He asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. Now 29, he has been sober for seven years and recalled what he had done for the gang this week, ahead of Youth Month.

“It was a nightmare, but of course I didn’t see it like that then. It is that feeling of belonging; if you fit in it is okay. To fit in, and for that feeling, you will go to extremes, even if it is shooting or stabbing someone,” he said.

Although he was never an official member of a gang while growing up in Manenberg, it seemed “cool” to become part of a gang and he wanted to emulate gangsters.

“I did not see it as them using me. As a child, police would not think that I had a gun, so it was easy for me to hide guns and drugs for them.

“Now I know if I had been caught the gang would not have taken responsibility for it. I got addicted to drugs while doing this, so I continued because they were selling the drugs I needed to take to feel good.”

He told Weekend Argus that once a child began doing something like running guns for a gang, it was extremely difficult to “get away from it”.

“When you start it is almost like a honeymoon period. In the beginning, they are nice to you. You learn that the only way to save yourself is to be fearless and hardcore. Kids are soft but they hide it.”

He was finally able to end his association with the gang when someone who had been involved in similar activities told him how he had been affected by experiences.

“I went back to the guy that used me. I am not cross with him. This must have happened to him, too. It is just the cycle that continues.”

Genevieve da Silva, a psychologist, said that in general people want to belong to someone or, in the ex-gunrunner’s case, something.

“We want a sense of love. We all have different ways of receiving. There is a certain connection with gang members, but it becomes a means to an end. The focus is the whole, not the individual.”

Da Silva said people were often manipulated into feeling guilty, or fearful.

Research on youth violence has shown a number of risk factors can result in young men and boys carrying out acts of violence.

“Many of these factors emerge in childhood, when boys and men who are prone to violence are abused in the home and possibly in the community, too. The risk of such men or boys perpetrating violence is exacerbated in situations where they abuse alcohol and drugs, or have been to prison (which is a brutalising environment),” said Guy Lamb, the director of the Safety and Violence Initiative at UCT.

A further risk factor for violence was when young men associated with peers who were either predisposed to violence or had perpetrated violence. This was especially the case with criminal gangs and groups of men who engaged in robberies.