When I think of the word “home” I think of safety, but I come from Atlantis, on the outskirts of Cape Town. The place I’m supposed to call home is fast becoming the most unsafe place for just about anyone to live. My community is brimming with passion and potential, but sadly these qualities are being overshadowed by crime and violence. By MONIQUE HANSEN.
There is hatred and ignorance in my community, born out of a lack of education and self-worth. Only 1% of matriculants in my community make it into university and get a degree. The other 99%, who have internalised the belief that they will never be good enough, struggle financially. On a daily basis, I see 10 year olds who live under the illusion that being in a gang – having power, money and status – is better than getting an education. These boys that are indoctrinated to believe that violence is what will get them through life, never get the chance to taste a true and fulfilling life. Never get to experience the things that really matter. They only know the edge of a knife as a way to stay alive and survive.
It makes me want to cry when I see second graders constantly having to look over their shoulders in worry, robbed of the joys of what childhood could be. Imagine a mother’s son, a father’s boy, someone’s little brother worrying about being killed. Young recruits don’t understand that once you get into a gang, the only way out is death.
These are just a few examples of the atrocities plaguing my community. I have encountered them countless times in my work, first as a youth reporter for the Children’s Radio Foundation, and now in my second year of mentoring other young activists in my community. My mission is to make our home a safer place for the next generation.
Over the years, it has been difficult to get people talking and interested in making a change. The topic of gun violence is taboo in my community. It’s almost as though it has become the new norm, rather than a problem to be solved. While some have given up, many families see gangsterism as an opportunity to live a better lifestyle. It took my team and me four years to just get people to start talking about gun violence. It was hard to get adults to listen to young people. They felt we didn’t have the necessary knowledge and experience to have an opinion. While we were ready to imagine a world where young people were the leaders, my community had trouble wrapping their heads around young people standing up against something so deep and so real. Most people only started to listen when they themselves were affected by gun violence, but what about the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who had already lost a loved one? We had to make people understand that prevention is better than cure.
Being an activist can be dangerous. I have discovered that many mothers and fathers are displeased by my efforts. By fighting to build a safer community, they feel I want to put their children behind bars. What I’m really trying to do is empower our youth by letting them know that there are far greater things in life than being a gangster. I’ve had to have many face-to-face conversations, but while some people listen, most don’t truly hear me, and that is a fight all of its own.
Finally, after three years of raising awareness around gun violence, gun laws and gun control, people started coming to the youth reporters at Radio Atlantis to find out more about what we do and how they could help us. We were invited to speak at three schools about gun violence and explore where young people’s minds were at with regards to guns and the violence that inevitably follows in their wake.
In August 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the second annual International Congress for Youth Voices – a four-day event in San Juan, Puerto Rico that assembled 150 young writers and activists from around the world to learn with and from accomplished writers, activists, and elected officials. It was my first time overseas, and I have never felt so safe in my life. Besides not having to worry about getting mugged or dodging stray bullets, I was surrounded by other young people with the same goals and dreams as me, who are creating the necessary platforms to make those dreams come true.
Back in Atlantis, it can be hard to truly believe that our dreams and aspirations will come true, but I read a quote once that said, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet,” and I carry that quote with me in my heart. It has guided me ever since I got involved in radio.
Monique Hansen is a journalist from Atlantis in the Western Cape. Led by her passion for story-telling and her experience working with the Children’s Radio Foundation as a young reporter, she is currently a BTech journalism student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, a freelance multimedia journalist for two community newspapers, and the award-winning mentor of ten young reporters. She has co-hosted with Lester Kiewit, been a part of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation’s Youth@Work program, and was invited to attend Dave Eggers’ International Congress of Youth Voices in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2019.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.
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