Charmaine Coetzee: ‘I joined a gang because I wanted to belong’

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Charmaine Coetzee is a former gang member from South Africa. She grew up in Cape Flats, South Africa. Also known as Manenberg, Cape Flats is known for its gang territories and standard of living is poor.

Charmaine Coetzee grew up without her parents being present in her life. The only way she could receive the love she wanted was to join a gang – a circumstance many other women go through in townships in South Africa.

“I decided to join the gang due to the brotherhood because I always see a gang as a group of brothers and sisters that look after each other.” 

“I come from a home where there was no mother or father. I had a mother and a father but they were just never interested in me. So I joined the gang because I felt that there was more love there, there was more support, there was more of the things I didn’t get at home. So for me I gained brothers and sisters in the gang.”

Now 20 years later, on her way to become a social worker, she says no one ever really leaves the gang. She still considers them family.

“Those are your brothers and sisters so if you go to them and they see the way you’re living that you’ve changed your life they will pardon you. You don’t really exit the gang, you just move up.Because the trademark [of being part of a gang] is always going to be there.”

“I’m about 20 years out of the gang, I just moved up. I never really left officially because the trademark is still there,” she added.

She says if someone wants to move up, all they have to do is change for the better. 

“I don’t believe it’s a difficult thing because it wasn’t difficult for me.”

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