Salesian Life Choices, a youth development non-profit organization based in Cape Town, brings you a story of hope from the Cape Flats. Raegan Beck, a young man from Manenberg shares just what it takes to thrive in an area under siege by gangsters and poverty.
“I was born into a world of bullets – Manenberg on the Cape Flats. It is one of South Africa’s most notorious hotspots for gang violence. Scores of innocent bystanders get caught in the crossfire between rival gangs daily and I have experienced more than my fair share of bullets and stabbings. Even yesterday I saw a man being shot dead in front of my home.
“When I was 12 or 13, I watched a group of guys stab someone in his chest with a screwdriver. They didn’t stop till he dropped to the ground. I saw the terror and fear in the faces of the community who witnessed the stabbing. The man passed away in his mother’s arms that evening.
“As a child, I was interested in books, I guess it was because I was curious, but it was also a way to escape. During those years, I didn’t realise that my mom and dad had issues. My father was a substance abuser and his habit cost money. We often didn’t have food in the house as a result of my dad’s lifestyle. His addictions were being fed, whilst we were struggling.
“My father was in and out of prison for various crimes. He got involved with the wrong crowd – a gang of carjackers. At one point, they threatened him that if he didn’t take the rap for crimes they were committing, they would kill my mother and his children. I only learnt about this after my dad had been in prison for a year.
“Although I didn’t have my dad around whilst growing up, I was lucky to have had great mentors at Christel House School over the 12 years that I was there. The educators offered me a secure and stable place during this critical time.
“Because of my dad’s stuff, my mom was the only parent in the house. She is a resilient woman, with sheer grit. She’s a server of people, helping in night shelters, guiding and nurturing others in spite of her home circumstances. My mom has been our rock and superwoman whilst growing up. She has somehow managed to give me what I needed, not what I wanted. This has been a valuable lesson for me. She has raised us to be free-spirited, loving and caring.
“Looking back over my life, I feel like my life has been one long online game – the king pulling the shots and the pawns running the rackets. My reality is that I live with gunshots – I go to sleep hearing them and they wake me in the night. Yesterday, when I was at the barber, there was a hit and run outside, then a full- on gun battle. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a crossfire. A few days ago when I got off the taxi in Manenberg, I was caught in the crossfire – You can’t imagine the trauma I’ve become used to living with, as bullets have been an aspect of my life since childhood.
“Life on the Cape flats is not what people think it is. It’s 100 times worse. We live amongst murderers. When I wake up in the morning and go out, I pray to see the end of the day. Getting shot at my front gate is an everyday risk.
“I’ve lived through shootings and gangsterism for years – it’s a game for the gangsters. What I’ve noticed is that the gangsters focus on retaliation – by killing someone, they feel they have levelled the playing field. What they don’t seem to realise is that this causes revenge attacks, and so the fighting continues year after year. It’s become the norm and our community pays the price.
“I can see that people want change, but they aren’t ready for it. When the police get called, the parents of the children with the firearms shout at the police and defend their kids. They aren’t ready to accept the aid that people want to give.
“So this has been the story of my life, fortunately, anchored by my mom and the stability of the school I attended. Life was tough but stable apart from 6 months of my matric year when I had to sleep on the couch at home because my sister had moved back home with her baby. In spite of living conditions at home and on the streets, I got a good matric and got a bursary to enrol at University of the Western Cape for a B Com Financial Accounting degree.
“Two months into my second semester in second year, I applied to stay in residence to escape the socio-economic conditions in Manenberg. I was accepted, but the admin at UWC had double-booked my room, so I had to stay at home again. It felt like my bursary fund manager at UWC was also overloaded and left me to struggle with finances and travel challenges.
“To make money for travelling to university, I used to sell instruments. It wasn’t a sustainable solution as the demand dried up and I didn’t have access to the right target market. Not being able to fund myself, and trying so hard to do something that would sustain me, I found it difficult to cope with my studies because I couldn’t always attend lectures and couldn’t afford to eat and travel. I had to drop out – but I continued looking for a new opportunity where I could grow.
“I started doing freelance audio engineering. Whilst I was doing this and looking for clients on Facebook, I saw the Life Choices Coding brochure. I applied at Life Choices Academy with my matric results and was invited to attend the boot-camp. I was 20 when I started the course and was fascinated by the languages I could learn. Coding stimulated me and made me realise how much I was able to learn. The problem-solving skills that I have developed during the training, have given me new energy in life.
“At Life Choices, we learnt how to turn walls into doors, to find ways to do things and not see them as obstacles. During the six months of training, we also did life skills, an eight-week meditation course, which solidified my understanding of how critical it is to still my mind, and how to be at one with myself. The course takes a holistic approach, which has changed me in so many ways.
“On completion of the Coding Course, Life Choices places us in 6-month internships. I have been an intern at Semantica for 3 months now – what they have offered me and exposed me to, is more than I could ever have expected or asked for. More than I even knew existed out there. The environment is rich in encouragement and stimulus.
“Looking back over the past year, if it wasn’t for Life Choices, I honestly can’t imagine how I would have worked out my future – at the time I was demotivated and couldn’t energise myself. I feel as though I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. As a Life Choices alumnus, I want to give back to upcoming coding students and become a mentor because I realise the critical importance of opportunity, mentoring and stimulus combined.
“For me, I feel that given that I’m still alive today, God still wants me to serve my purpose. I see myself making a difference in my community by forming a network of people who can be tapped into for resources that can nurture youth’s potential. I believe that the mind truly shapes your reality. The programme I want to start is to give kids life skills and guidance through mentors. I believe this will help kids find themselves and give them better opportunities in life, other than joining a gang.”Republish