I did not have hope that I could change
“I was saying I want to start a new life, that I want to change …” Msindisi Qashani tells of how desperate he was for a life transformation, but also, how difficult that was proving to be after exiting prison when he was 20 years old. His time in prison had not been easy initially. “Yoh, I had no hope. I wanted to hang myself at some stage, not knowing there is someone who cares for me, someone who loves me.” Not long after he was released on parole, he could see he was heading down the same path that led him there in the first place. And he reached out to City Mission. “And the guy I am right now, it is unbelievable,” he laughs, “Really, I cannot believe it even myself .. me, going back to school, back in a school desk?”
Msindisi left school when he was 12 years old. Both of his parents struggled with alcohol, and combined with violence in the home, and little food, it became very difficult for him. Then his mother left the home. “I still needed my mother, but she was not there,” he says as he remembers trying unsuccessfully to heal his broken family, and how that impacted his young heart.
“It was very painful, and I ended up dropping out of school, and got involved in all those things, becoming a gangster, stealing things from others, even old people.” He explains, “I could see my life is going deeper and deeper into this …and I felt there was nothing I could do. We were a group of friends who ended up being a gang.”
A Sense of Belonging
The family he created for himself with his peers meant a lot to him. Even though they were doing ‘bad’ things together, it gave Msindisi a sense of belonging and they took ‘ownership’ of their community – making people pay to come into the area if they did not live there. The more power they had, the worse their crimes and the greater the conflict with other gangs.
Then one New Year’s Eve Msindisi was desperately trying to raise money to spend a fun day out with friends in Stellenbosch on the 1st. He had half the amount needed and decided to join a small group robbing people on trains to get the other half. “Three phones and we would be done!” They were on their way home when he was arrested and found himself in prison at the age of 17, having to join a gang for protection. “But then I was sharing a cell with a brother called Andile, who introduced me to Christ, and we were always going to church after that.”
He was moved into a section where one could do activities like singing in a choir and playing soccer, and that became part of his healing story. “I had no red pen next to my name, none. I did exactly what I had to! I said, to myself, I will learn what I need to here. It is called ‘correctional services’ so that we learn from our mistakes. I used that time to learn many things – like how to manage my anger,” he explains. Even leaving the gang was a miracle – “I saw the hand of God because God helped me leave the gang,” he says, “And I got back into singing and playing soccer, like when I was a child.”
The ’soccer section’ into which he was moved became a place of learning about love and life. “We spoke about how we were going to change our communities when we got out.” He knew it would be tough ‘on the outside’ though. “Sometimes you will not get that opportunity – peer pressure can damage everything. Even pressure in your house – you see there is no food and you feel guilty for not bringing in anything – then you think ‘I have to get income no matter what or how’. That is what kills us – we want to give what we don’t have. Even if we want to change.”
Change the World
Misindisi and his prison mates had a section coach who spent a lot of time with the group of young men. “He loved us. He told us we can do better and said, “Even you – can be the ones who change the world.”’ Msindisi remembers him as one who looked out for them and reminded them of who they could be. “He gave us hope.”
That is where he met Sibu, City Mission field worker and soccer and life coach. “The soccer room was a programme of City Mission – Sibu’s room. There were rules – and that is where we learned to share – if one had nothing, we would share what we had. We learned about love there,” he says, “And I saw how others lived there – respect, discipline, dignity.”
Msindisi was so excited to leave prison when he was let out on parole in 2020 that he did not sleep the night before. His mother and father were waiting for him and welcomed him back. “Even though you have changed in prison, you realise that there is no change when you go home.” He left his backpack with the bible and good books in a corner of his room and did not look at it for months. “I was helping my friend with a chicken business like I used to,” he explains, “But I realised, this is going nowhere for me. I was invited to join groups of people smoking, to make them laugh, and was known as the funny guy, but there was nothing I could be proud of and I wanted that to change.” Msindisi realised he was going to be sucked back into a lifestyle he had tried so hard to leave.
“I reached out to Sibu and told him I am so tired. I see my life is going nowhere – I am making people laugh and selling chickens. I want to go back to school. Please help me if you can.”
That appeal for help was the next turning point in his life, and in 2021 Msindisi came to live at City Mission, and went back to school at the age of 23! He cannot believe he is sitting in a classroom again after all these years, but is so determined and excited about this next chapter of his life. “City Mission helped me a lot. The way I am thinking right now. I have a lot of ideas. Without these people I don’t think I would have these ideas that I have now. For my future. I believed the lie that I can do nothing, but the things they have shown me, and the things they always continue teaching us, phew, I am so grateful.”
A Future Hope
A man with a vision, Msindisi has many ideas for his future, including supporting young music artists, and bringing hope to other young people like himself. “I don’t want others to go through what I have gone through. The pains I have experienced, they must not go there.” He wants to help young people find their purpose, whatever that is, believing they can build their futures and not just wait to see what happens.
“To build our future. We must leave those things. We are the ones who can change this country. We have so many ideas. We have so much to bring, and we must use all of our potential and creative minds to build the country we want.”
|One young man’s journey from gangsterism to wanting to build a healthier and happier South Africa|