18 Gangster Museum in Khayelitsha: Taking a stance against gangsterism

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18 Gangster Museum in Khayelitsha

“18 Gangster Museum is the first of its kind in Africa. This innovative, living museum aims to help South African youth to understand better the treacherous path that too many in their communities take into gangsterism and, ultimately, prison. More importantly, 18 Gangster Museum seeks to offer a positive alternative.” This is the 18 Gangster Museum in a nutshell, as described on their website.

Located in the Khayelitsha township outside Cape Town, the unique museum incorporates immersive text and imagery, as well as a replica prison cell, to bring across their message. 18 Gangster Museum’s installations are curated by ex-offenders, who share their inspiring real-life experiences of gangsterism and prison, and how they turned their lives around.

18 Gangster Museum also offers different township experiences, with qualified local tour guides and ex-offender curators, in Khayelitsha, which is Cape Town’s biggest township. The tour allows visitors to experience the cultural, historical and economic aspects of townships by stepping into the local communities.

Wandisile Nqeketho, founder of the museum, tells more.

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Would you please tell us more about the 18 Gangster Museum? What is it all about?

18 Gangster Museum is a tool that seeks to change society for the better by alleviating gangsterism in gang-ridden societies. We teach young people about the implications of joining gangs, so that they can make sound decisions for the betterment of their future, as they navigate this thing called life in the township.

We hire ex-offenders as a means of giving them a second chance in life, and it also serves as a reintegration mechanism to have the ex-offenders back in society and being accepted by society.

A section of the museum is a replica of a prison cell

Visitors enjoying local food

Where does the name “18 Gangster Museum” come from?

The name “18” comes from adding the numbers of the gangs together, to a sum of 81 – the numbers of the gangs are the 26s, the 27s and the 28s, which are all representative of negativity. We turned the 81 around, because from our inception, our role in society was to turn people’s lives around.

What is the aim and goal of the museum?

The museum is innovatively built in a shipping container; it is then divided into two different sections which complement each other. One section is an installation that depicts two possible journeys of a young person growing up in the township; one leads into a life of criminality and gangs, and the other depicts the beauty and benefits of choosing a life outside of gangs.

Primarily the young see the negative route as the go-to route, because it has been highly glamorised, and their minds are corrupted, and they are blinded to understanding the importance of making the right choices. The installations are curated such that they assist the young to take the correct decision.

The second section is a replica of a prison cell; this is where people can have a vivid experience of how horrendous the conditions are in prison, and this section is facilitated by an ex-offender, who shares his life story. This section allows the visitor to pose questions, so they can get an extensive understanding as to why one should stay away from a way of crime.

Ex-offenders warn about the dangers of gangsterism

The museum installations are curated by ex-offenders who share more about their real-life experiences of gangsterism, correct? Please tell us more.

The reason behind having ex-offenders curating and being guides at the museum is to provide them with a second chance in life, due to the fact that they never had proper guidance before – they are a consequence of a debilitated social infrastructure and socio-economic instabilities.

This is to reintegrate them back into society, and, more so, to have them guiding young people away from a way of crime, since they have first-hand experience in gang culture – their experience becomes the requisite tool to guide the young away from a way of criminality and make crime less appealing and attractive to the young.

Inside a section of the museum

Why is it important to educate society about gangsterism?

The challenge is that when society is not properly educated about gangsterism, we will continue engaging in incorrect methods of dealing with gangs. We have something that we call mob justice, a violent act conducted by society in dealing with gangs; the people beat to death anything that they think is a gangster, and many times, people have incorrectly been victims of such vile acts, but gangs still exist.

This is due to the fact that the reasons or conditions that make the creation of gangs conducive still exist, and, by killing gang members, we are only dealing with the end result, not dealing with the root problem. Educating society assists in creating sound solutions that speak to addressing the root causes of gangs.

Plus, as an addition, it builds a counter-narrative, and strips off the glorification of gangs in society, so that the young can understand how this plagues society and stymies or inhibits growth and development.

Why do you think it is important to take a stance against gangsterism?

If no one speaks against gangsterism, it will become normalised. Being fearful in your own community will become a normalised state of being, as a township dweller. Brutality and dehumanising acts will become normal. The downtrodden will suffocate from within; the townships, inhabited by the majority of the people in this country, will become war zones, and the innocent will suffer a great deal.

Gangsterism is a hideous beast that makes animals out of humans, so if we seek development and growth, if we want to enjoy peace, there is a great need to extricate gangsterism from our communities.

What would you say to the public to encourage them to visit the museum? 

Going to 18 Gangster Museum is helping and positively contributing towards societal change. We are a people who are motivated by the need to create a better world for the next generation to inherit, and by coming to 18 Gangster Museum, you are participating in creating that world. I encourage everyone to join us in making this world better for future generations to come.

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