Last in a series of occasional articles documenting issues of South Africa's post-apartheid generation
Neckties flapped in the breeze as the half-dozen or so gang members gathered at their regular spot outside a small power substation. Their formal attire was unusual. On this morning, they would bury one of their own, a sweet-faced 16-year-old named Adriaan who had been savagely murdered.
Paulus Gaai, at 19 one of the more senior Street Kids, said the killer was from the rival Preston Show Boys and vowed payback. As he spoke, a gold tooth glittered; his mirrored sunglasses reflected rows of battered houses and young people like him with no jobs.
Paulus pinned the ultimate blame for Adriaan Berry's death on alienation of "coloreds," as mixed-race people like Adriaan are called here. For many colored youth, members of the Mandela's Children generation who have come of age since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, the new South Africa is falling short of its promise of better times for all. Compared with blacks, they have seen fewer educational and job opportunities, and that has fueled drug dealing, crime and gangsterism, Paulus says.
"Only the black people get everything right," Paulus said. "If they want houses, they get houses. If they want jobs, they will get jobs."
That is simplistic, as many poor blacks could attest. They, too, are still waiting for a freedom dividend. But his pessimism reflects a reality 13 years after apartheid's demise: A sense of isolation permeates the colored community - 9 percent of South Africa's 47 million people - and it is helping to perpetuate a long-standing scourge of gangsterism.
"They said it's going to be good for everybody. But that's not the case. The black people get first privilege, then the coloreds come," said Suzette Japhda, 31. She spoke of colored job applicants she knew who lost out to blacks with lesser qualifications. And she said basic government services such as roads and hospitals have deteriorated since 1994.
"I believe if a white guy is in charge of the government again, then it's going to be like in the olden days, not like now," she said. "For me, it was better when the white man was in the government."
Colored South Africans can proudly point to members of their community who have risen to prominence, such as Finance Minister Trevor Manuel or Bryan Habana, a star on the Springboks national rugby team that won the World Cup in October. Multitudes of colored people have moved into the professional class.
But Irvin Kinnes, a crime prevention consultant who studies colored gangs in Cape Town, said he often encounters a bitter hopelessness. "A lot of youngsters argue, 'What's the sense in getting an education? We're not going to find jobs anyway.'"
A colored ex-gangster named Neil Armstrong said he warned Paulus, Adriaan and their fellow gang members that they were flirting with danger. He knew firsthand, having gone down the same path a dozen years before, with disastrous results.
Armstrong was in his early 20s when Mandela was elected president. The optimistic glow bathing the country did not reach his corner of Bloemendal. He saw poverty and dead-end jobs. He also saw young colored men with nice cars and befriended them. They offered jewelry and free alcohol, which brought women's attention.
His new friends were in the Rooms, a colored gang that sold drugs and fenced stolen goods. In time, he says, he became the right hand to the gang's financier. The deeper in he got, the more serious his crimes, culminating with a murder for which he was sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
Released early in 2004 for good behavior, he has sought to steer kids toward a better future. But in the end, he has had little to offer them. He has no job training slots or scholarships, not even a paying job of his own to use as a model.
Adriaan's death was a personal defeat for him. "I spoke to them a lot of times," said Armstrong. But they seemed unwilling or unable to follow his guidance. "As they say, they are living a street life."
Armstrong paid his respects at Adriaan's funeral. At Old Apostolic Church, the tough-guy expressions that Paulus and his pals wore earlier melted. The preacher thundered in Afrikaans, the Dutch-like mother tongue of coloreds. Solemn-faced men in suits and women in wide-brim hats looked on from the front rows.
Moments earlier Paulus had bragged to a visitor about his misdeeds, rationalizing them and perhaps embellishing. "We rob, breaking in, murder, attempted murder - everything we do. Because we don't have a good education, because there is no money for us to send us back to school, because it's very hard."
The sight of Adriaan's flower-draped casket in the church foyer quieted the boasts. One young man wept, reaching out to the photo of Adriaan gracing the coffin. Paulus, a 10th-grade dropout who lives with his mother, sat against a wall, still and expressionless. In the back of the cavernous sanctuary he started crying, burying his head in his arm and leaning back to keep the tears from rolling down his cheeks.
Japhda, Adriaan's next-door neighbor, described the boy who went by the nickname "Pikkie" as a "sweet person," a boy she could entrust to bring back her change when she sent him to the store.
"You don't know what your children are doing in the street. He was a good person at home. He had respect for his elders."
As Paulus tells it, a member of the Preston Show Boys stabbed Adriaan a couple of years back. Recently, Adriaan had cut the young man in retaliation. In late September, Adriaan disappeared. He was found in early October, stabbed to death in a field, one arm completely severed.
Complicated historyGangs in the colored community go back decades and are linked to this country's complicated racial history and the deep roots that connect whites and coloreds. Coloreds are descended not only from slaves brought from Indonesia and East Africa and from indigenous black Khoisan peoples but from white settlers who began arriving from Holland in the 1650s.
At one time South Africa's white leaders, despite discriminating against nonwhites, hoped to forge special ties with coloreds. They saw coloreds as superior to blacks because of their "European outlook" and shared language with white Afrikaners.
But treatment of coloreds worsened with laws of racial separation in the 1950s. South Africans were placed into four groups: white, black, Indian/Asian and colored. Coloreds were herded onto often inhospitable terrain near Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, cities with large colored communities.
Even so, coloreds fared better than most blacks in these areas. According to Andre Standing of the Institute for Security Studies in Cape Town, strict labor laws kept the black population to a minimum and gave coloreds preference in hiring. Those laws ended with apartheid, leading to a steady influx of blacks and greater competition for jobs.
Coloreds, like blacks and Indians, get preferential treatment over whites under affirmative action policy for being "previously disadvantaged." Between 2001 and 2006, the official colored jobless rate fell from 21.2 percent to 18.9 percent - still high, but far below the 30.7 percent among blacks.
But coloreds complain of second-class treatment by black government officials. Few colored people enjoy the wealth that many whites do, and South Africans of Indian descent have moved faster into the professional ranks. Competition for jobs has heightened tensions between coloreds and blacks.
"With affirmative action, you have a lot of incompetent [black] African people being employed above competent colored people," said Rhoda Khaladie, a human rights activist in Cape Town who is colored. "Increasingly, colored people are told, 'You're not black enough,' so they do not get jobs."
For Mandela's Children, she says, the message seems to be: "You are now free to be poor and to destroy yourself; that is the irony. You go anywhere in South Africa and anybody will tell you that as horrible as apartheid was, things functioned better."
RetaliationAfter the funeral, pallbearers carefully walked the casket down the stairs and into a dusty Toyota station wagon hearse. Adriaan's friends piled into a line of pickup trucks that snaked through Bloemendal to the cemetery for burial.
Alain Don'tony, a black man who married a colored woman, was among the mourners. He pastors at a nearby church and has buried gang members too.
"Young people in this community don't have a sense of direction," he said, noting that many are being raised by single mothers. "There is not a sense of leadership, in particular among the males."
As for Paulus, he says he intends to keep selling drugs and committing crimes for the Street Kids.
Yet he acknowledges the personal toll. "It feels hard for me to lose a second brother in the street life gang," Paulus said after the funeral. "It's very hard."
At the cemetery, a windy clearing next to a field with grazing cows, Adriaan's casket was lowered into the ground to the sound of hymns. As a procession of young and old threw clumps of dirt on the coffin, Paulus peered into the hole, his hand resting on the head of another young man.
Already his thoughts were on exacting revenge against the rival gangster he alleges is the killer. "It's going to make more problems," he acknowledged, "but how we feel now, we don't care. ... If we kill him, their people will come shooting at us, and the fight will go on until there is somebody dead again."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun