A Ugandan academic has likened Cape Flats minor gang recruits to child soldiers of his home country who fought in the rebel group called The Lord's Resistance Army.
Dr Jino Mwaka, rector of the University of Sacred Heart in Uganda, at a recent dialogue on children trapped in violence on the Cape Flats, said the concept of "child soldiers" needed to be expanded to include young people who are exposed to violence and trapped within their communities.
"We must also include children who are at war for survival, such as children who are exposed to domestic violence, street kids and child-headed households," he insisted.
He was one of five panelists who discussed the topic at an international public dialogue at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last week Wednesday, May 9.
According to research conducted by UCT in 2018, there are about 10 000 children on the Cape Flats "trapped in violent conflicts" and recruited in gangs, Community Chest's Titania Fernandez said.
On average, about 32 people are murdered per month in Hanover Park.
'Kids aren't forced to become gangsters'
Panelist Maulana Thohar Rodrigues, who participated in the research, presented a "local view" of the child soldier.
"When we think of a child soldier we think of a youngster with a gun. Child soldiers exist. These youngsters are shooting in our communities and stripping them of peace," Rodrigues said.
But an audience member, a self-proclaimed former 28s gangster, challenged the suggestion that the underage recruits were child soldiers, arguing that they choose to join its ranks.
"Kids aren't forced to become gangsters, they want to be gangsters. They are attracted by the uniform - Nikes, bling-bling," he said.
Rodrigues explained underage boys were used as drug runners and to hide weapons in low income communities such as Bishop Lavis, Mitchells Plain and Elsies River.
"Children are indoctrinated and saturated with a brutal upbringing, meaning they are ordered to kill. You won't find this in the black or white communities. This is happening in the coloured community."
No child-centred activities
But Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture director Valdi van Reenen-Le Roux argued that the racialisation of gangsterism as a coloured issue was incorrect.
"We already know that there is gang violence in Langa and Khayelitsha - they just have a differing modus operandi to coloured gangs," she said.
"When it comes to gang hierarchy, who do you think is at the top? White people."
Last year, the Western Cape ANC announced that it would embark on a multi-pronged anti-gang strategy, which would include petitioning the national police minister to implement the national anti-gang strategy.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille has previously called for military support to assist the police. Soldiers were last sent into the Cape Flats in May 2015, following a surge of violent crime.
But community-based organisation Fight for Peace leader Seth Reynolds said government was offering no viable alternatives.
"I don't understand government's inertia. Our organisation operates in Manenberg and Gugulethu and there are no activities for the children," he said.
"We already know the problems. There is this gap between studies and actual intervention. Do we really need more research?"