Shades of Gray

January 2, 2010
“What about the police?” one of my classmates asked regarding the gang violence in Hanover Park. Joderick laughed before proceeding to tell us more. He informed us about how the police were too scared of the gangs to do anything about the violence. Joderik then pointed out some graffiti on a nearby building, a blue crown with a “B” under it. The crown represented a gang named “British”, ironically enough, a South African gang. Before then I had never questioned the significance of graffiti. As we walked further into Hanover Park, I began to see the markings on the building in a different light. Scrawled on the side of a market, I could make out the words “Stupid Boys”. I was surprised to learn “Stupid Boys” was the name of a gang, and not just degrading words on the side of a building.

We began our walking tour of Hanover Park with the advice “Don’t say your American, say your from America”. The reasoning behind this, as Michael later explained, was the name of the largest gang in Cape Town. Joderick and Michael were both youth co-coordinators for a program called CASE (Community Action towards a Safer Environment) During our stay in Cape Town my 12 classmates and I were volunteering with CASE. The youth co-coordinators work to break the cycle of crime and violence by keeping kids off the streets. When we asked Joderick how he stayed out of hang life, he replied by saying he just didn’t have the time. Every day of his week was dedicated to an extra curricular activity, such as chorus or soccer. Similarly, CASE has many different clubs, workshops and camps designed to empower the youth of Hanover Park.

We walked further into Hanover Park, while smalls of garbage and piss drifted up to my nose. Men with missing teeth and bloodshot eyes whistled suggestively as we shuffled forward, heads down. Laundry blew in the breeze between the tall buildings as I gingerly stepped over some dog excrement on the sidewalk. American flags were grafittied on bus stops, visible symbols of the gang life. Small boxes sat on corners, people’s homes when they had nowhere else. All the while Joderick told us stories about growing up in Hanover Park.

“ I don’t walk around by myself at night” Joderick said. A Hanover Park native knew better than to venture the dangerous streets at night. It was broad daylight, and I, an outsider, felt very uncomfortable. My white skin was like a beacon shining out across the streets of Hanover Park. It made me feel insignificant and weak compared to the tough life many lived.
Before setting foot in Hanover Park I expected drug addicts, alcoholics, gangs and prostitutes but as our tour concluded I realized how my views had changed. True, life in Hanover Park isn’t an easy one, but there are ways to avoid the violence. Although many submit their life to the streets, it’s not the only route to take. Life in Hanover Park, like so many other things, isn’t just black and white. It’s a shade of gray somewhere in the middle.

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