I know I have been quiet for a while, and I am sorry for that! Things have just been busy! But a good kind of busy. I am trying to get the word out, in as many ways as possible, that it is child abuse to allow children to live on the streets. A while back I wrote a book called Life Under the Table about my experiences (from the first few years of living in Cape Town) in working with the kids. I have posted it as a blog, for those of you that would like to read it just click on the title. While writing that book I was struck with a harsh conclusion: many stories I would like to tell would not fully be “understood” unless the reader has walked a long road with the individual. So if I told stories of hectic crime or drug abuse that the children partake in, I fear the reader might tend to feel negative feelings about the children, without truly understanding the fullness of the situation and reality with which they live. To remedy that, I decided to write a fictional series, based on a mixture of real experiences of real children, combined with my own imagination and story telling liberties.
The idea for the series is to focus on one “character”, tell the story from his point of view (taking him from his community to the streets to wherever his path takes him), and allow the reader to build a relationship with him, so that when he begins to participate in “questionable” behavior of street life, the reader is on “his side”. I have finished the first book of the series (though I have not approached publishers yet) and am working on the second. As I was writing the first book, which I titled Out of Manenberg, I often pictured it as a movie and dreamed about seeing it one day manifest itself in “film” form. I want to make a proper, great quality, feature length film of Out of Manenberg, and though I realize this is extremely ambitious, I know that dreams have to start somewhere. So I have decided to pursue this dream with a little more aggression and I am trying to raise funds to actually MAKE the movie! I have a very talented director friend who is excited and willing to work on the project. All we need is money.
I am trying to raise 1 Million Dollars, which sounds like tons of money but for a feature length film it is merely a drop in the bucket. I started a group on face book “I hope to find 1 million people willing to give 1 dollar each, to make a movie” and I opened a Pay Pal account so that people can give. If you are interested in giving you can click on the “donate” button on the right hand side of your screen or click here. If you want to give but do not wish to use Pay Pal feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It only takes 1 dollar to become an executive producer of this film! Please help spread the word, even if you can’t give 1 dollar you can help by telling all your friends! As a little incentive, here is the first chapter of the book:
OUT OF MANENBERG - Chapter 1: Learning To Survive
I can’t sleep. Its nights like these where I lay and think. All of my shattered dreams, aspirations, and hopes, of what I could have done, of what I could have been, swirl around in my head like a raging storm. I lay here on this thin mattress with nothing to drown out my loud thoughts except for deafening silence and the sound of rats scratching around the prison floor. Yeah, I have had a rough life, but I truly have no one to blame but myself for the place I am in now. I had an opportunity to make it out of my life, that was destined to go nowhere, and then because of one stupid choice, I threw it all away. I will spend the rest of my life behind these walls, encaged within these bars. How did I get here? There’s no simple answer, but the best place to start is the beginning.
I was born in 1987 in Manenberg, a suburb of Cape Town that has a reputation for violence and gangsterism. I never knew my father, but from what I hear about him, I don’t really care to ever meet him. He lives far away or is dead by now. I don’t really care. I have three brothers and two sisters, all except for two are from different men. I am the oldest. My mom was as loving as she knew how to be. She also didn’t know her father. That’s because her mom was raped by a white police officer. She grew up during a hard time and the white people made it difficult for her to succeed. She had no education and she would try and drink away her problems with alcohol. She didn’t have a job but we never seemed to struggle too much for our basic needs. Well, that is if you consider water, sometimes food and shelter basic needs. Our neighbors would always give us rice and bread when we needed it.
I have always been a natural leader. I am small, but I learned how to use my mouth at a young age. I got into my fare share of trouble because of my mouth, but I also learned how to use it as a deadly weapon, when need be. I have also been in my fair share of fights, and though I am small, I am pretty tough. I remember my first fight. I was seven, and my brother, the second oldest, Andre was four. He came home one day screaming and blood was streaming down his face. Mom had sent him to the store to buy her a cigarette and on the way Melvin, one of the known troublemakers of our area, tried to take his money. Melvin was a thirteen-year-old bully and he got away with it because his older brother was one of the big shots in one of the prominent gangs in our area, the Hard Livings. When Melvin tried to take the money from Andre, my brother knew that the beating he would get from Melvin would not be nearly as bad as the one he would get from my mom if he returned home with no cigarette and no money, so he stood up to him. Melvin hit Andre so hard that he fell and busted his head open on the ground. Then Melvin sat on Andre and took the money from him.
I listened, as Andre stood there crying and bleeding all over the floor. After I had gotten the facts straight, I decided to go settle things with Melvin. No one messes with my little brother. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I ran to confront Melvin. By the time I got to the shop, Melvin was standing there, smoking the cigarette that was supposed to be my mom’s and he was laughing and telling the story of how he had gotten it, to a group of about five of his friends. I felt a warm sensation all over my body and it felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Melvin was twice my size and known for his fighting abilities.
I picked up a brick that was lying on the ground and started for him. Before he knew it, I had jumped up onto him and I hit him on the forehead with the brick. As he fell to the ground, I landed on top of him. The brick fell out of my hands and bounced as it hit the ground. My arms went numb as I punched him in the face over and over again. I could feel my knuckles being shredded by his teeth but I could not stop myself. I had never felt that kind of rage before. His friends stood there in shock, not really knowing what to do. When I saw that he was unconscious, I stopped. There I sat, on top of bloody, unconscious Melvin, with a group of kids standing there in absolute shock. I slowly stood up and picked the brick back up, in case some of his friends got any bright ideas. I looked at them and I could tell that I had a wild look in my eyes that scared them; a look of a wild animal on the prowl, ready to devour his next prey. They all just stood there like statues. I announced, “You tell Melvin, when he wakes up, that if he EVER touches my brother again, I will finish what I started.” Pretty big words for a seven year old! But I had heard the older gangsters in our block of flats say things like that before.
Then I remembered my mom’s cigarette and I searched Melvin’s pocket and found a whole rand. I went into the shop and bought the cigarette for my mom and two sweets, one for me and one for Andre. I walked proudly back to my house. I felt a sense of power that I had never felt before. I felt like I ruled the neighborhood. I felt like I could take on a whole army if I had to. When I got back to my house, I gave my mom her cigarette and I gave Andre his sweet and I sat down and told him the whole story.
Fighting was a necessity in my neighborhood. Those who couldn’t fight for themselves, had to walk around with those who could both fight for them and for themselves. The gangs ruled the area and they preyed on the young boys. They recruited from a very young age. If you didn’t join a gang, you were in danger. At least if you were in a gang, you would only have the threat of the rival gang and the protection of your own along with it. If you were not in one, you would have to watch your back all the time for all of them. I hated them. I decided from a young age that I was never going to join a gang.
Andre’s dad was a gangster. He lived with us around that same time. The hatred that I had for that man is not describable with words. Every night, he would sit with his friends, in our kitchen, and smoke buttons until he could barely talk right. I hated him even more when he was in that state. He was an evil man most of the time, but when he was dik geroek , he would put the devil himself to shame. Sometimes he would even pass out right there on the floor. I preferred it when he would just kap om , which was only every now and then, because the other times, which was basically every night, he would end up beating my mom and then he would turn his attention on Andre. He hated Andre and always talked about how he was a “mistake”. He beat every bit of dignity and self-respect that was left in my mom, right out of her.
I remember her from a real young age. Even though it seems I was too young to remember things like that, I can still picture her beautiful face in my mind! I thought she was the most beautiful lady that had ever walked on the face of this earth. She was young, at the ripe age of 19, when I was born. When I was three she got with Andre’s dad and then everything went down hill from there. Their relationship was never that good but he only started really beating her like that when he found out she was pregnant with Andre. He blamed her for getting pregnant and some nights he would make her drink and drink to a dangerous point, to try and abort the baby. Some nights he would beat her and even hit and kick her on her stomach. I was young, and I would just sit there on the floor crying, but those pictures are still engraved in my mind.
When Andre was born, it got even worse. He beat my mom on a nightly basis. By the time Andre was three and I was six, my mom looked like a totally different person to the beautiful young lady that I once remembered. The beatings had added years onto her and she looked like a forty-year-old lady. She had also lost sight in her left eye from one of the more vicious beatings. Her eye was white and cloudy. Her skin was worn and looked like leather and her lips were always swollen. It broke my heart to even look at her because I loved my mom more than anyone else in the world. When I was eight years old, I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I came in from playing with friends one night and I found my mom, bleeding and unconscious, on the floor. Then I heard Andre screaming in the back room and I could hear his dad beating him and telling him to shut his mouth. His words slurred together, as they often did when he was dik geroek.
I felt that same feeling that I did in that first fight with Melvin. By then I had gotten used to it because I had been in many more fights over the years. I picked up a screwdriver that was laying in the kitchen and I ran back to the back room. I stopped in the doorway and saw the bastard standing over Andre with his belt in his hands. Andre was curled up on the floor and was crying and pleading for him to stop. “Jou ma se poes kind! Jy’s net soos jou ma!” He continued to hit Andre, with the buckle part of the belt. I could not take it anymore. I felt a rush of rage and then everything turned black. I jumped on his back and stuck the screwdriver into the back of his neck and he immediately fell to the ground. He fell on top of my leg and I had to pull it out from under him to stand up. I went over to Andre and helped him sit up.
His eyes were swollen shut from the beatings and he was bleeding all over. I held him and told him that everything was going to be alright. My heart felt like it was ripped into a hundred pieces. I loved my brother more than anything or anyone else in the world, apart from my mom, and it killed me to see him like that. I started to cry and I sobbed like never before. We just sat there on the floor and I held Andre until he fell asleep in my arms. I was in shock and I just sat there, shaking, crying and I held Andre tight until I eventually fell asleep. I was awoken by a loud blood-curdling scream the next morning. My mom had woken up and came into the room and saw her man laying on the floor in a puddle of dried blood with a screw driver sticking out of the back of his neck. She picked me up and started shaking me, screaming, “What have you done?! What have you done?!” I searched deep within for words, but nothing came out.
She collapsed to the ground and held me tight in her arms and began to sob. I could see that she wasn’t crying because she was sad, but because she was actually relieved. Andre woke up and came over and we all sat there on the floor for hours. Time passed by slowly and we all just sat there and didn’t say a word. Looking back, strangely enough, that was the best time I ever spent with my mom. For the first time ever…maybe the only time…we felt like a real family. We sat there until the night and my mom finally went out to a friend’s house. A little bit later she returned with some men and they took away the body and we never heard anything about it again. The police didn’t get involved and there wasn’t even a funeral. Of course the word got out in the neighborhood, that I had killed a man, which only helped my reputation amongst the kids.
I had killed someone. I felt no remorse, no grief, but that wasn’t the thing that scared me. What really scared me was that I knew if I were put in the same situation again, I would do it over again. I had to protect my mom and my brother. They were all I had.