When asked to draw a picture of his community and what he sees around his home, a seven-year-old boy from Manenberg drew a picture of two gangs shooting at each other with two blood-covered bodies lying between them.
Commenting on how crime affects the psyche of children, Inspector Ian Bennet, a social crime prevention officer at Athlone Police Station who has worked in the community for many years, made the disturbing statement that children have become so accustomed to seeing violence that it no longer traumatises them.
...children have become so accustomed to seeing violence that it no longer traumatises them.
"In the old days when people heard gunshots they would run away. Nowadays you find that children run toward the sound of the shots rather than away because socially it has become correct to them," he says.
Bennet also says that the gang culture has become so ingrained in the community that it has become part of what children aspire to be when they grow older.
"Children don't have a strongly formed conscience and it is easy to recruit child soldiers because children are copycats. We need to set the norms straight in our community and to steer away from using ex-gang members as role models who are heralded as heroes when they change their lives," he says.
... steer away from using ex-gang members as role models who are heralded as heroes when they change their lives
Bennet says one of the main reasons people don't speak badly about gangsters is because they help the poor and this in turn leads to children seeing the lifestyle as being something good.
"Children want and need to feel as if they belong. If they don't get that from their family, or are made to feel that they are no good at home, they become gang leaders where they can belong and be in control," Bennet says.
"Children in Kewtown want to go to Pollsmoor to see what the 'numbers' gangs look like and they then aspire to become 'the number'. Therefore I think it is detrimental to take a child to prison," he adds.
The media plays a negative role when they expose children to gangs.
Bennet says the media also plays a big role in how gangs are perceived by children and in society.
"The media plays a negative role when they expose children to gangs. Children see gangsters as icons on the front page of a newspaper or as a famous person on TV," he says.
Child psychologist Frederick van Wyk has analysed the boy's drawing and says it focuses on the divisions within his community.
He says the two dead people and the tree in the centre of the drawing may be an indication of how exposed the child feels to the daily threat of gangs.
"In the drawing the fruit seems to be falling off the tree, and could indicate how the child experiences a degrading (corruption) of good values and what should make him feel secure," he says.
...indicates a possibility of the child's sense of hope for the future
He adds that, from the way the child drew certain aspects of the figures, it can be deducted that he experiences much anxiety, tension and hostility, which contributes to aggression in his life.
"The child is feeling ill-equipped to deal with these threats in his community. It is overwhelming and he experiences uncertainty in his relationships with those around him," Van Wyk says.
"The sun, however, is shining (left corner of the page) and indicates a possibility of the child's sense of hope for the future," he adds.
As a way of changing the mindsets of children and society as a whole, Bennet advises that government should go back to basics by working with religious institutions as well as encouraging children to play sport.
"We don't want children to look up to gangsters, but gangsterism is another form of competitiveness.
"Previously children used to run and play sport to compete - now it's a competition about control.
"Government needs to make children work again and tire them out. If a child plays sport he wont have the time or energy to belong to a gang," he says.