Time for change in the Western Cape:

My name is Gayton McKenzie and I come from jail. But I’ve spent more time out of jail now, heading for my 11th year since release, than I ever spent in jail. The thing that bothers me most now is I still see people in jails everywhere. Not in jails with walls and gates – because you don’t have to be locked behind bars to be imprisoned. They’re in jails in their own communities, trapped by poverty, by being surrounded by gangs and being overwhelmed by some of the worst circumstances imaginable.

Earlier in my life, I was part of the problem. I had never done an honest day’s work before I went to prison. I never even had any intention of looking for a job. I was proud to be a criminal, to be an alpha male among men who had been humbled by “the white man”. I was arrested more than 25 times by murder and robbery before I even turned 18.

I committed serious crimes. I became South Africa’s worst nightmare: young, coloured, rich and violent, the kind of person who still terrorises South Africa today.

After being sentenced to 15 years in jail, I eventually got sick of crime. I became well known with my friends for a video exposé, but we had also, not long before, stopped around 20 hardened lifers from escaping through a cell window they had been sawing through for six hours. I was determined to be a better person and I wanted to take my friends with me on a journey to redemption. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not.

When I came out of jail, I dedicated six years of my life to going to schools around this country as a salaried employee of Chubb. Later, when I made some money, I invested it in business. Some of that paid off handsomely, and I made most of my money from my consultancy work in mining.

I made millions, and became rich and far too extravagant. I started to live the life I had once hated white people for.

But during the global financial crisis I lost almost everything. I couldn't even pay for my daughter’s medical visits.

I pulled myself back up though. It wasn't easy. My family stood by me; friends deserted me. But I came back up, stronger and wiser for it.

All the while, the gangs and the criminal way of life in South Africa continued without me. The fight in Manenburg raged on. People who knew I had the potential to speak to the gangsters called on me. For all the years since my release, I had avoided getting too involved, but eventually my conscience took me there. After weeks with the biggest of the gang bosses, with the help of exceptional people, we brokered peace in Manenberg after the virtual war earlier this year.

Peace returned for everybody but me, because I remained haunted by what I had seen and learnt.

My children live in Cape Town in affluent suburbs. When I tuck them in at night, I can’t help but think of the kids on the Cape Flats who are so often shot dead by stray bullets. When I reach my own bed, I can’t forget the families who sleep in the corridors of their small houses, just to be safer, because they sleep easier in places that have no windows.

I cannot forget Manenburg and the many places like it. I can’t return to my old life of driving sports cars and pursuing only my own dreams after what I have witnessed. How can my life proceed as normal? But blaming just the gangsters is a total cop-out. We need to blame our politicians, our political leaders. These are the men and women who are meant to be responsible for imposing the rule of law, to protect our families and children.

But they’ve been too busy blaming each other and seemingly waiting for someone else to solve the problem. But no one else can.

The problem in the Western Cape is that our people need a real economy. Youngsters are lured into gangsterism because of better financial prospects and, more importantly, safety. Good people join gangs because walking along on your own is a sure way to get killed. On the Cape Flats, the only way to get a gun is to join a gang. If you hope to have any protection for your family, you join a gang. Guns don’t just get dished out to those who aren’t in gangs.

The ANC and the DA just debated what to do about the crime in our communities while children were being killed. The ANC refused to bring in the army, even when the DA wanted it, but in Marikana, where fewer people died than on the flats, the army was sent in right after the massacre. But every month is like another massacre in Cape Town. Are the people on the Cape Flats not black enough? The DA, too, has lost control of the situation. Its inability to empower the people on the flats economically has contributed immensely to the escalating fights.

How can Helen Zille be called the best premier in South Africa if Cape Town is still the murder capital of South Africa? It's up there with the worst in the world. How can she be the best when children continue to be killed? How can she be the best when hope has totally disappeared for the majority of the Cape’s residents? If filling potholes makes you the best, then she has won hands down – but being in charge of a province with so much murder and mayhem … you can't be the best unless those lives mean nothing.

This is why I can’t just be a spectator any more.

I don’t want to be a political leader, but I know there are leaders in the Western Cape who can bring a real, tangible, lasting change to the lives of ordinary people. They are not in the ANC and they are definitely not in the DA.

This is something new, something different.

I want to stop the war in the Western Cape by bringing political war to the likes of not only Helen Zille and the DA, but all the self-important politicians in the ANC who who have lost touch with the people.

I will spend every cent I can raise to fight this cause and will encourage every like-minded person to do the same.

All politicians who’ve tried to do something in the Western Cape have failed utterly. It's time for change; I’m going to contribute towards that change. I can see hope coming and I will be part of it.

And I know I will be far from alone. Millions of others will soon see the same solution for a problem that is now far too old to allow it to just continue standing.

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