Gangs and resilience in Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa, a city famous for diverse cultures and its natural beauty, is also an urban environment overwhelmed by above-average levels of violent crime. Some areas of Cape Town have murder rates equivalent to those experienced in conflict zones. A significant part of this violence is a result of the city’s long-standing struggle with gangsterism. In recent years, gang-related violence has grown and evolved.

The photos from this exhibition were taken in Cape Town in 2017 and 2018 as part of the #GIResilience project. The collection documents both the harsh realities of life for communities affected by the gang phenomenon in Cape Town, as well the hope created by resilient communities opposing gang violence.

One of the aims of this curated photo-exhibition is to convey a sense of hope through images of the daily life of an activist and photos from a resilient community’s march, taking a peaceful stand against gang violence.

Cape Town has the highest murder rate of all of South Africa’s major cities (69 per 100 000, 2018 figures). Large swathes of the city are impacted by the presence of gangs.

The map shows the territories claimed by the six biggest gangs in Cape Town. Each gang’s turf is colour-coded. Some parts of the city have over 30 gangs vying for territory. With such a high concentration of gangs, turf is fiercely contested and can be split down a single street.

Some of the main gangs in Cape Town are the Americans, Hard Livings, Sexy Boys, Ghettos, Mongrels and Terrible Josters.

Cape Town’s notorious prison gangs (or ‘number gangs’), the 26s and 28s, also have a significant street presence.

This exhibition focuses particularly on one neighbourhood in Cape Town – Manenberg

Manenberg is a high-density urban area south-east of the city centre on the Cape Flats established during the forced removals of the apartheid era.

Like other marginalized communities, Manenberg suffers from multiple social challenges, including lack of access to social services and high levels of unemployment.

For many marginalized youths, gangs present an opportunity and a source of employment, but, more than that, they also offer a sense of belonging, of identity – something that many young people desperately seek. It is estimated that 30 per cent of males in Manenberg between the ages of 10 and 30 are members of a gang.

Gang life: Gang life is often associated with violence, money and drugs – all of which bring ‘power’ and are traded for each other. Gang members, Cape Town, 2017.
Gang life: A mother and a gang member. The father of this child is currently serving a prison sentence. The woman, who is simultaneously holding her child and a knife, is an active gang member. She has no childcare and frequently takes her baby with her when she is doing gang work. Gang member, Cape Town, 2017.
Gang life: Tattoos, known locally as ‘chappies’, indicate gang allegiance. The number gangs – South Africa’s prison gangs – are made up of the 26s, 27s and 28s. Gang members, Cape Town, 2017.

Towards resilience

In the face of increasing gang violence on the Cape Flats, a number of remarkable organizations and people have stood united in their opposition to the violent control exerted by gangs over their communities. Although there have been numerous community responses to crime and social injustices, the photos show the story of one anti-gang activist, Roegchanda Pascoe, who has literally put her life on the line to oppose gang violence.

Roegchanda Pascoe at "Dialogue on Organized Crime and Development", London, February 2019

Roegchanda is one of the founders of the Manenberg Safety Forum, which was established in 2013 after a six-year-old boy was shot dead playing in the street outside his home. The person who had shot him reportedly laughed and said, ‘I want to see who is going to put me in jail.’ This disregard for the law – and human life – galvanized the Manenberg Safety Forum into action.

A day in the life of an anti-gang activist:

The broken gun is made out of dollar bills showing the connection between violence, guns, money and power

– Activist Roegchanda Pascoe explains the significance of an artwork by Ralph Ziman, Manenberg, Cape Town, 2018.

Up to 20 family members can share a small two-room flat [in this community]. In recent years, the government hired a corrupt construction company to undertake upgrades to the flats. The money was not used properly, and the quality of work was so bad that the homes were left in a worse condition than they had been before the “upgrades”.

– Pascoe describes the living conditions in Manenberg, Cape Town, 2018.

We want to have a fun art day and a safe space for the kids to play outside.

– Pascoe describes her dream of using this space in a positive way to bring the community together through art. Manenberg, Cape Town, 2018

During the photo shoot, Pascoe received a call from local residents asking for assistance. Their family member was a victim of a crime, and they are seeking advice from her on how to lodge the case.

– Manenberg, Cape Town, 2018.


In October 2018, hundreds of residents came together to march against gang violence in Cape Town.

You could really feel the unity in the air.

Activist Roegchanda Pascoe describes the feeling when people from all over Cape Town gathered for a peaceful march against violence and gangsterism.

– Anti-gang and anti-violence march, Cape Town, October 2018.
Protestors carry poster boards showing the impact of gang violence: women are abused and families lose fathers, sons and daughters. (Anti-gang and anti-violence march, Cape Town, October 2018).
Children show their loss beneath the backdrop of Table Mountain. (Anti-gang and anti-violence march, Cape Town, October 2018).
We are not here to fight government: we are here to tell government that the power lies within the hands of the people. We are going to take your hand today and be part of building the South Africa we want to see.

A memorandum was handed over to the Parliament of South Africa with suggestions from the community on how to address gang violence.

– Pascoe addresses the protesters and government at the anti-gang and anti-violence march, Cape Town, October 2018.


Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime