We struggle with the idea of township tourism. It feels wrong to observe poverty, even more through tinted windows and armed with a camera. But the urge to experience Cape Town behind the beautiful forevers excused our troubled ethics. So we decided to join a very special provider of township tours: a real ex-gangster. Bradley had stories to share that were beyond our furthest expectations.
His father was among the founders of the Americans, a major gang in SouthAfrica estimated to have up to 10.000 members. In the seventies, gangs met the need for security
in townships, as the apartheid regime simply didn’t care. Ongoing high unemployment and poverty led to gangs that participate in all sorts of organized crime like trafficking, murder and robbery.
All three still fear for their lives. They had lost relatives and friends. Bradley made a change, when he started to question the purpose of his actions. He says, he had caused enough harm and suffered enough pain. With help from some peers he became clean and started working with Rlabs, an organization dedicated to ‘reconstruct communities through innovation’. Bradley made clear why many young people become gangsters: They have no alternative. For him it’s that simple.
John and Ricardo were waiting for us on the corner before entering Manenberg. They were Bradley’s ‘bros’, but still active with the Americans. When they entered the car they joked around to downplay the somehow tense situation. Once the ice was broken, we couldn’t but pepper the gangsters with questions. When do you get to talk to the guys you should normally be afraid of? All three had consumed and dealt drugs, stabbed and mugged people. When John told us he would get shot in case he left the car, the
reality of their stories started to sink in. But the circumstances allowed a conversation as equals.
Bradley’s chance was to find an alternative in tourism. On several tours per week, he shows interested people the ‘hood’ he grew up in and tells them about his life. He makes it an incredible experience, because the story is authentic.
And our story? Back from the trip, we want to believe to have seen something different than other township tourists on their way to see prearranged and repeatable settings. But that’s probably just something we tell ourselves.
Jose Cendon Photography
Go on tour with Bradley: Chisana Tours