'Now he can help us save the Flats'

Changed men: Ivan Waldeck (centre) lines up some of his graduates for a photoshoot.(David Harrison,M&G)

Changed men: Ivan Waldeck (centre) lines up some of his graduates for a photoshoot.(David Harrison,M&G)

Six months ago, Taswell Kilian was using drugs. "I was taking tik, buttons, dagga … multichoice," he says.

On top of being a serious drug user, he was also a member of the 28s gang in Belhar on the Cape Flats. At 31, he did not have a future, and his mother threatened to kick him out.

"My mother told me one Saturday that she was going to take me to buy me new shoes. And she drove me here to the restoration centre," he says, laughing. "Pastor Ivan Waldeck saved my life."

Kilian says he knew his mother meant business. "I made up my mind to come right. It is not easy but I am clean and reformed."

Younger gangsters who have reformed are pleased to have former Hard Livings gang leader Rashied Staggie in their midst. They believe he can reform others and help to put an end to the curse that is gangsterism on the Cape Flats. Gangsters who had previously shot each other in fights are now living under one roof. 

Waldeck says gang leaders sometimes send their members to him if they express a wish to "get out".

"Roland, a leader of the Mongrels, sent three of his members here, and the Junky Funky Kids sent one of their members here," says Waldeck. "Now they are all living together."

Asked whether their lives were not in danger as they might know too much, Waldeck says understanding the rules of the gangs helps to protect them.

Gang leaders know that some of their members are in the programme, he says. "They say they will watch them to see if it is true that they want to reform, or if it is just a camouflage."

Waldeck trains gangsters and former prisoners to forget about their past lives and friends.

Not many families are in a position to donate money towards the centre’s running costs. Apart from the urgent need for funding, Waldeck says, psychologists and police could help with the programme, but "we don’t want corrupt cops". 

"Challenge the government to step in. This is a haven of hope for these guys. Even you can come and help with a media talk. Empower our generation. When bodies are lying on the street, then the media are there. I have a problem with that. Good things like this happen, but nobody lends a hand."

Waldeck orders the youngsters who have graduated, or who are completing his programme, to pose for a photograph.

"Where are your diplomas; where are your smart shirts?" he shouts out. The youth are devoted to him, and quickly change clothes.

"Almal who has graduated voor, and the others agter [everyone who has graduated in front, and the others at the back]," Waldeck says. 

"Smile. Everybody smile." 

There is an air of excitement and pride in the room as the young men, all formerly members of the same or opposing gangs, pose for the camera. They believe a miracle has been happening at the centre.

Arran Herman is only 21 years old, and is formerly a member of the 28s. "I used drugs and I did naughty stuff from the time I was 14 until I came to the centre. I was in and out of prison."

There may still be a 28s gang tattoo on his arm, but Herman says he has a new life, despite an armed robbery case hanging over his head. "I trust the Lord; he will look after me now."

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill


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