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by Karl Kemp / Images by Jaco du Plessis / 19.08.2014


DE DOORNS, WESTERN CAPE – We’re winding through the Hex River Valley, into De Doorns. The landscape rolls by like an oil painting. We pass some beaming youngsters selling grapes; the kind of guys that don’t seem to change, no matter how many times you travel these roads. Three protesters were killed here in the infamous farm labour strike of 2012, which was ignited by the Marikana Massacre. Vineyards were razed and the roads blocked by mounds of burning tyres, but you wouldn’t know that now, driving into ‘God’s country’.

We find our way to the De Doorns police station. Inside, a local cop wields a slim bullwhip, addressing the staff by name and proclaiming loudly and sarcastically, “This is mos what it’s like in De Doorns! Lekker service!” and the staff are silently telling him to fuck off whilst me, Jaco and a few others look around awkwardly.

We ask to see the spokesperson, who’s apparently away attending a funeral. This is frustrating, but expected, so we exit and walk round the back, past a security guard and into the station’s yard. There’s a group of locals standing against a wall, looking despondent and aimless. It’s not clear whether they are being held or if they’re just loitering, waiting for better days.

We approach and tentatively ask about the tik scene in De Doorns; one of the places where we’ve been assured it is a fresh threat; a symbol of the spread, the crux of our story. And the rumours are right…

“Daar’s nie meer witpyp nie, jy hoor nie meer van dit nie – dis net die tik,” explains a middle-aged, thin man in a patched suit.

His name is Rodney and he takes the lead, backed by some matriarchal figures. He doesn’t give us his full name, and can’t take us to a dealer.

“Ons sal nou nie dit kan se nie, dis so bietjie gevaarlik, want ek kom wys nou vir julle, hulle dink dis polisie of so, ‘wat van raak van hom ontslae?’, dan kry hulle ‘n paar van die bendelede en maak so.”

We ask him where to go, and we’re pointed to the area known as Stofland. “So in die wuunboort kan julle probeer ja, maar in Stofland sal mense bietjie skrikkerig wees. Dis bietjie gevaarlik. Die messe is daar.”

He gives a pertinent example of how the community has changed.

“Wanneer dit druiwe tyd is, verstaan jy – nou maak hulle so. Hulle gaan pluk druiwe. Nou kom daar mense wat dalk wil druiwe koop of so, nou gryp hulle beursies en fone. Dis as gevolg van tik.”

We walk back to the car, and navigate past the grape merchants again. Somehow they don’t seem to be smiling anymore.

There’s a train track cutting through town. We travel parallel to it and find Hex River Sekondêr. Church bells gong as we step out onto the gravel. It’s early in the afternoon, overcast. The sun pokes out intermittently. It’s school holidays so the corridors are mostly deserted. At reception we’re steered to Aubrey Lawrence, deputy head and head of discipline. A squat man with no neck.

“Last year was the first time we’ve had gangs in our school. First there were just two, but now we have six different ones,” he says in an authoritative, disciplinarian tone.

He doesn’t reckon gangs are big in the wider community though. The school’s juvenile delinquency is bad, very bad, but it’s not yet on the level of Worcester. The scary thing is that the rumours are true – tik is here, the problem has just emerged. And if you take Worcester as the logical conclusion… it’s not difficult to trace the De Doorn’s and Roberton’s course, especially considering the trends are almost exactly the same:

“We have huge problems with teenage pregnancy,” continues Lawrence. “They get pregnant by the dozen. And half of the babies don’t stay with their parents, because the parents are just kids really. It’s guardians, grandparents or aunts and uncles that bring up the children. That’s why I think it’s escalating. There is a remarkable difference from two years ago.”

The stuff he tells us is disturbing. Teenagers are stealing phones and computers to support addiction. And when fights break out, they don’t just scrap… they brawl with weapons.

“They have sawn-off, sharpened golf clubs, shovels, knives. No firearms yet. Chains,” he says in his short sharp way.

“At school, it’s their place to take each other on. One ou was stabbed last year in his lung, which collapsed. We do have incidents of tik abuse, but the big one is still dagga. It’s cheap and accessible, R1 a stop, R15 a straw. We have kids that have asked for help, but we struggle because their families have no money. At Toevlug, it’s R350 administration fee, and then the parents must send spending money. Kids get away with murder, because who’s going to pay the expense of rehabilitation?”

At Hex River they have a lot of original kid gangs; the MCs, the Lyk Lus, the Wolwe. It’s the latter group that we later find out are the hardest of the bunch. Fully-fledged JCY-esque gangs have yet to infiltrate the community – although the tik is here. But like Ester told us in Robertson: it’s a symbiotic relationship – gangs and tik are inseparable. According to Lawrence, there are already 28 illegal shebeens in the general vicinity around the school. That’s where the kids ‘pak’ each other on the weekends. De Doorns has a capacity of 8 000 people, but 35 000 have somehow made it their home.

“As they get older they get into the gang activities… and many don’t outgrow it. When they leave school they keep the groups active, and those that don’t get jobs, they rejoin. So the problem will escalate. There’s no project to keep kids off the streets. There’s only one police van here. They’re definitely understaffed with regards to vehicles.”

Lawrence grabs a kid outside his office looking to make a quick get-away on his bike and tells him to take us to Jean-Will Ranchod. “Tell him Lawrence sent them. Then he’ll talk.”

We follow the kid on his bike by car, and wind down into the suburbs. Many houses are decrepit but many more are tidy and humble. It’s typical lower-class platteland fare – beautiful and sad simultaneously. We find the kid parked outside a house at the upper end of a street and he flees as soon as we get closer.


We park, and get out. Three ous and a girl are engaged in a game of dominos outside. They’re 20-somethings, mean-looking. They glare, but say nothing. “Enige een van julle Jean-Will?” There’s a silence, and then a young-ish looking kid pokes his head out of the doorway. “Wie vra?” And we say Lawrence, and he says OK, come in.

A tannie in a head-wrap and faded dress sits drinking Black Label inside. She says nothing. Jean-Will sits across us on a ratty couch and we explain what we’re doing there. He’s small, wiry. Tattoos up and down his arms. An ill-fitting green Mr Price kids shirt clings to his frame. His shoes are almost falling off his feet. His eyes are open – they don’t have that hard, aggressive look you might expect from someone with his appearance. He’s willing to talk, and we soon realise that he’s no gangster – just a kid that got into gangsterism. A kid who’s teenage angst was vented with knife-fights, rather than the door-slamming and hard partying of middle class reprobates. He’s just turned 19.

Jean-Will describes the genesis. How youth get jealous of each other, get drunk on weekends and fight. Next week they settle the results at school. The groups are 30 or 40 strong, and the MCs are the biggest.

“Laas jaar pak hulle vir my aan. Die Lyk Lus gang. Die Maandagoggend… twee was in my klas. En die ander was in die ander blok. Ek was kwaad en so aan, hulle het kettings en sjambok en ysters gehad. Toe pak ons die twee aan wat een van die MCs gesteek het,” he explains, and then gets into the tik narrative…

“Die tik-gebruikers is heeltemal uit verband uit van die skool. Dis die Wolwe, van Stofland. Die MCs gebruik nie tik nie. Net die Wolwe, en die van die plaas.”

Jean-Will reckons his gang is dead, but he can’t speak for the Wolwe. “Hulle is erg op rob. Blikkies vis en mielies by die shop in Stofland. Ek weet nie hoe hulle vorentoe gaan maak nie.”

The Wolwe might be the cases Lawrence was referring to – the lost causes; the first seeds of the gangsterism that’ll consume this place as soon as the kids grow up.

Jean-Will isn’t a gangster. He’s a poor, glue-sniffing kid living in circumstances beyond his control. Every scar on his body is a testament to that. They don’t sell, or steal, according to him. They fight. Because there isn’t much else to do. But the Wolwe, they use tik. And they come from Stofland, the overpopulated squatter camp to the north. So the tik-problem isn’t gang-related… yet.


Suddenly the tannie breaks her silence and chips in: “Dis seker nou 3 of 4 jaar wat ons hoor van tik, dat tik hier is,” she says in a cracked, arid voice. “Want regtig hier by ons, die drugs was buttons en dagga. Tot nou toe. Nou hoor ons van tik. Ek weet nie eens hoe lyk dit nie. Dit maak probleme! Die huise word ingebreek. Selfone! Jy kan nie loop en jou selfoon antwoord nie, dan word jy gerob.”

We ask Jean-Will if we can take photos of him. He starts pawing at his curly hair and suddenly the tannie is laughing. First he’s gotta go put some water on his hair, for his picture to be taken. This kid, with the knife-fight scars, has to tidy up for a photo. He proudly shows us the four other photos he’s gathered over the years, of him and his mates. None of his parents.

The tannie refuses a picture and won’t tell us her name.

“Ek hou nie van koerant goeters nie!” she laughs, before a hacking cough takes over.

Jean-Will takes us down, deep into the township. It’s not Stofland, which sits above the suburbs across the main road. A mate of his meets us there, and they tell us to wait by the car. The shacks here are embedded deep in the shrubbery. It’s downtrodden, humid. Acrid smoke billows from open fires on most properties. Chickens peck at sleeping bastard dogs, and somewhere a pipe is leaking.

Jean-Will comes back, and we step into a maze of shack passageways. There seems to be a way through that only Jean-Will knows. These aren’t his mates, we’re going to meet, he explains. Everyone just knows who they are. We break into a kind of square, with squat shacks surrounding it. To the top-left is our target. A few older kids spot us, silent, watching. A young woman is dozing in the sun, flies on her face. Jean-Will and his mate call out, and the local tik-heads emerge.

They’re making a fire with some twigs. Perfunctorily, they smell. The filth and bric-a-brac are coalescing into one another – a mess of organic matter and corrugated steel. They’ll talk, provided we donate some cash. R50 later, there are about 15 people in a 4 by 4 metre space. We’re bunched up and suddenly these folk are jovial, friendly, no longer threatening. I joke about the one guy’s dirty lollie and he actually looks embarrassed, and calls for his gun. I freak and start making excuses to get away, before they laugh and tell me ‘gun’ is slang for a lollie.

The woman that’d been dozing brings the gun. She’s got orange hair, a bad dye-job, and dead eyes. She tells us she’s lost her house and kids, because she started smoking at 14. She’s now 22. My age.

“EK was vir drie jaar sober gewees… ek was in ‘n koma gewees van drugs. Dit was mandrax, cocaine, crack rocks, whoonga, tik.”

It takes 10 minutes, but eventually somebody returns with a straw. This strain is called ‘yellowtail’ apparently, and it’s powerful. About seven of those gathered smoke, from one straw, showing Jaco step-by-step how to smoke.

IMG_8430 IMG_8437 IMG_8443

Now high, they chat, telling us what we already know: murders, rape, overpopulation, pregnancy. Same shit, different town.

Interestingly, they tell us that it’s not the tik that causes the violence – it’s the craving. The tik-buzz and the excitement sends the kids into a kind of frenzy and the voices clamour and banter back and forth:

“Jy sal hom sien op die dorp, sy oe… dis ‘n tokkie wat hy vang. Hulle oogballe rol rond.”

“Dan raak jy van jou kop af. Dan is jy bereid om te steel. Dan begin mens roof. Hier in die dorp. Jy’t ‘n ding nodig om jou af te bring nie, van die lift. As jy nie daai button kry nie… dan gat jy.”

“Daar’s baie sulke goed wat gebeur. Jy’s nie by jou volle positiewe nie.”

“EK word LUS vir hom meneer!”

I ask about the murder rate. A chorus of ja’s and mm’s hit back.

“Nou dat tik ingebring is… dit verger die hele ding.”

However, the story is that the community got fed up earlier this year, with the minor gang activities upsetting the status quo. A mob got together and beat a local gangster to death – more violence chalked up to tik. It didn’t make the papers. This place is too embedded, too far tucked away, the violence too endemic.

Lawrence might not think so, but the people outside the suburbs sure do – tik is causing havoc amongst the lower-lower classes. It’s here, in a place forgotten, even beyond the margins. The rot has set in, festering, waiting to emerge. And emerge it will, in the hands of school-kids; traded for sex, smoked at shebeens, inciting a new wave of violence in the hearts of the dispossessed, the parentless, the classless. In time.

For now, it’s boxed into a run-down shack in the weeds at the roots of wine country. Jean-Will says he’ll take us up and out, to Stofland, where we’ll look for the Wolwe, who might just wake the beast.


*Read Part III here, and tune in soon for the next episode…

*Images and video © Jaco du Plessis

**Follow Karl Kemp on Twitter

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