Tracy Lee Stark

By Tracy Lee Stark

Photographer and Multimedia Producer

Watch: Cape Town bootcamp offers a path away from ganglands

Despite Cape Town's reputation as a holiday paradise, its streets rank among the deadliest in the world.

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The scene looks like a military conscription, but it is actually a sought-after programme that takes young people from Cape Town‘s toughest streets and sets them on a path to employment.

“I felt that my life had no direction, but since the moment I got here, got to experience everything that’s happening, a lot has changed,” said Siphokuhle Kapa, 23, a student at Chrysalis Academy.

Despite Cape Town‘s reputation as a holiday paradise, its streets rank among the deadliest in the world.

All of South Africa has a horrific crime problem, but in 2021 Cape Town‘s murder rate was by far the highest in the country, at 64 killings per 100,000 people.

Johannesburg’s rate, by comparison, was 37. New York’s was 5.5.

An escape from crime

The crime is driven by rampant gangs, combined with high unemployment — things Gibson Jannecke wanted to escape.

“I have no history of drug abuse, no history of gangsterism, but it was a big factor in my life that affected me heavily,” Jannecke said, recalling his upbringing in the Western Cape town of Macassar.

“I couldn’t walk to school without being mugged. I could not go out in the street without my parents being worried about gunshots.”

In 2011, he came to Chrysalis to study youth development. A decade later, he’s teaching there.

‘Unleashing potential’

The academy was set up in 2000 by local government, in the shadow of the high-security Pollsmoor Prison — a jarring contrast to the leafy surrounding suburb of Tokai.

“When young people come here, we don’t look at them as drug addicts or poor people,” said chief executive Lucille Meyer.

“We look at them as whole human beings, but human beings who have lived difficult lives,” she said.

“We are here as a platform to help them deepen their resilience and unleash their potential.”

Chrysalis runs three three-month courses each year for people aged 18 to 25, with two courses for men and one for women.

Anyone meeting the criteria can apply online.

Restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic have hit all the courses and the current intake of 162 women also has reduced numbers.

The bootcamp-style courses have strict 4:30 a.m. starts each day, with a 9:30 p.m. bedtime.

They focus on fitness and discipline, as well as mental wellbeing and vocational skills.

Mobile phones, drugs and cigarettes are prohibited.

Due to Covid, outside visits are not allowed but students can phone their family members two or three times, and write to them.

The intensive courses cover leadership and self-discipline, as well as mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

Students spend two weeks offsite in nature, where they go camping, hiking and swimming in Tokai and on neighbouring Table Mountain.

They also have to fast for 24 hours in solitude on the academy grounds.

The course ends with four weeks of vocational training, where students study areas such as cooking, firefighting or police training.

Chrysalis then works with the provincial government, which largely funds the programme, to find each student a 12-month career placement.

Make a difference

Zenande Hambiso is looking to go into law enforcement.

The 24-year-old is from Kraaifontein, one of Cape Town’s domestic violence and murder hotspots, and had struggled to support her family despite working long hours at the supermarket. 

Hambiso initially found Chrysalis tough.

“I was struggling waking up at 4 o’clock. I don’t like waking up early, but as time went on, I got used to it,” she said.

“Sharing a room with a lot of people with difficult backgrounds and behaviours, it was very difficult, but now we get along.”

Hambiso would not say more about her background but says she wants to help make her community a safer place with the skills she’s learnt at Chrysalis.

“One day, I want to open my own investigation company to help women who are being sexually harassed, raped and abused,” she said.

“There are abused women, and there are a lot of people who are being raped every day, and killed. It’s really not a good thing what we are living through, so I am really trying to improve where I’m coming from.”

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