As the most violent city in Africa, Cape Town struggles with entrenched gang culture within the large townships surrounding the centre of the city. For kids and young people growing up in these townships (originally restricted «non-white» areas established during apartheid), it means to grow up in underprivileged surroundings, where crime and fear has become part of everyday life. Young men are recruited into criminal gangs that rule the streets. 70% of South-African convicts are in and out of prison. For some of them, prison are safer than the streets.
My friends in Norway have asked me many times: «Aren’t you afraid of the inmates you work with». And yes, I were in the beginning. Before I got to know them as individuals, I must admit I was. But quite quick, that went over, and now it seems completely absurd. Yes, there is occasionly aggression, attempted manipulation and non-constructive ways of dealing with emotions. These people has learned to speak the language of the streets. But I am never afraid.
The inmates are people. Resourceful people from underprivileged backgrounds, with beautiful lives going to waste behind bars. Growing up in a neo-liberalistic society still thraumatized from apartheid, a society that distributes it’s resources in a way that doesn’t provide any social safety-net for ex-convicts. These people are husbands and wifes, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons that want’s to provide for their families. Many of them come from utter poverty. What would you do, if society had turned it’s back on you, and you had such limited chances in life? Do you have any idea how desperate you would become, after day in and day out with struggle for pure survival?
Do not think that I for one single moment am defending the gang crime or the horrible offenses that some of our inmates has committed. But I do see devastating destinies, and I do see deep despair and desperation.
So what’s the point? What’s the point of coming as a privileged white person and think you can solve any of this? Believe me, I have asked myself that question over and over again. I has not been easy to gain trust, my appearance is in itself a provocation. But little by little, we succeded.
How did we succeed? I think it has something to do with awareness of the space in which we have the honour to be invited in. The decition to have the inmates’s own lifestories, dreams, hopes and fears as our main focus. Letting them write the texts and perform them onstage.
In order to be able to work with rehabilitation through deviced theatre, and create any kind of authentic work, you have to be humble. The inmates were the important ones. We have merely, hopefully, after this process opened some closed hearts in both inmates and spectators of the performance. After the Q&A’s following the performances I dear to believe that theatre and art can be part of tearing down walls and build bridges, create new meetingpoints and new political conversation. But crime is a societal responsibility just as much as an individual. And we all wonder: What now, after?