International Women's Day: I was a gang member, now I work for change for women in South Africa 

Former South African gang member Welcome Witbooi talks about his violent past and how it is possible for men to change

Share
Fact File
  • Every six hours A woman is killed by her intimate partner in South Africa
  • Every 26 seconds A woman is raped in South Africa
Related Topics

I joined a gang because of the sense of wanting to belong.

My father would tell me that I would amount to nothing, every single day. I thought being part of a gang would give me status.

Guys in the gang would applaud me for abusing and hurting people. You hurt people to show strength. You hurt people to show how powerful you are. You can’t show weakness.

There is a process of brotherhood, something that you didn’t have at home. You feel that you’re part of something, recognised and protected. When you’re in a gang you have enough to eat, you have clothes, they look after you.

Gangs do not have any respect for women. Women are seen as non-existent parts. When men need to show their strength and domain, they would sometimes be requested to rape women in order to prove their power over them. And the women are afraid to talk out because they might be killed in the process.

My role was more to get involved in robbery kidnapping and assault. My nickname was Day Walker.

I went to prison for violent robbery. In prison it was much more difficult. Your crime was nothing compared to what others had done, so you had to prove yourself all over again. You had to become the abuser again, even more violent and aggressive. It was quite a horrific experience, but it was what prison culture expected. It was a man eat man world. Either you eat or be eaten. Prison is a process of survival.

Inside, I got involved in the One Man Can programme and then I started to see my life differently. I asked myself if I really wanted to grow old aggressive and angry all the time, and abusive to loved ones. The trainer asked me ‘Welcome, what do you want your life to be like?’

I knew that the longer I stayed in the gang, the more this thing will consume me, so I decided to get out.

I did a lot of introspection and knew in order to change, I needed to move myself away from gang activity. I needed to understand that I could be a loving man and a provider.

Now I know what it is to be a man, and that one man can walk away from violence.

Since leaving prison I have been a training assistant for One Man Can working with the Sonke Gender Justice organisation for the past six months. Sonke, which is supported by UK aid, supported me outside the prison and assisted me to build that character.

Now I go out there and show young boys that they don’t have to be like the old Welcome, because the new Welcome is much better. Right now I have an opportunity to address gender-based violence on a broader scale. Men who have changed need the opportunity to share their stories.

Governments need to go out there and understand why a boy does the things that he does. They also must try to provide support systems to assist him as soon as he comes out of prison. If there are no support systems in place, assist him to put those systems in place. When I got out of prison, I didn’t know what it was like to have a bank account. I had been away from society for 15 years and so many things had changed.

If we could get world leaders more involved, men can learn to respect women. We will be able to make a difference.

For more information visit http://www.dfid.gov.uk/violence-against-women-and-girls/

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam