Mzukisi Mbane

Mzukisi Mbane is used to standing out in a crowd. It is his most comfortable state. The 24-year-old is sporting peroxide blonde hair, John Lennon sunglasses, chequered print stove pipe trousers and a fitted jacket. Against the backdrop of the colour muted township of Khayelitsha, Mbane cuts a bold figure as he poses for a picture in the street.

The street is his runway and the outfit is cause for rubbernecking by passers-by.

Mbane is the founder and creative engine driving the fledging fashion label, Swagger Diariez.

Mbane says he has always been fashion conscious. An attempt to finish a BComm Accounting degree in a bid to secure a financially stable future only further frustrated his true passion. However, only after a dismal academic performance, he gave up his studies in 2010 and took the time to fully pursue fashion.

That decision meant starting from the very beginning. He asked his mother to help teach him how to sew using her old Swinger sewing machine.

“My mom taught me how to use the sewing machine. The first item that I made was a crop top for my niece in 2011 because that was the in thing at the time. I started exploring from then on.” His love for fashion appears to run in the family.

“I come from a background of fashion lovers. My grandma used to love clothes and she would buy clothes and pack it under the mattress... there was just (her) clothing everywhere.”

Looking back on his time as a BComm Accounting student makes him laugh at the obvious contradiction between his studies and his passion. “I was the fashion guy. I would rock up in a blazer and tie. Looking back then I was always going to be in fashion.”

These days Mbane dreams up and makes Swagger Diariez creations from a tiny wooden wendy house behind his mother’s house. He was able to have it built, buy additional fabric and sewing machines after winning a competition rewarding entrepreneurs in the creative space.

Mbane explains what Swagger Diariez means.

“When we talk about Swagger people think about Hip Hop but that’s not it. Swagger is to move with confidence and diariez (refers to) every day you put on a piece of clothing and that is an entry into your diary.”

Swagger Diariez is not township based, explains Mbane.

“The idea was to try something new from ikasi … my idea was to give people from ikasi something that they never had before. It’s not limited to ikasi. My major inspiration is Kanye West. He has always been a part of Swagger Diariez.”

Mbane’s journey as a fashion designer has been completely self -taught.

“I never attended fashion school. I believe I was born to be a designer. Even when I talk to designers they don’t understand how I can draw a pattern.

It’s a lot of Google ‘how to’ and then I would alter what I learned from Google to give it the swag.”

Mbane remembers one video in particular which he stumbled across on the net and instilled in him a sense of confidence in his abilities.

“It was a video about how to make a T-Shirt. She (the instructor) said if you know how to make a T-shirt you can everything else.”

Swagger Diariez has not been without hardship, as Mbane initially struggled to attract financial backing.

“Along the way I thought that it was going to be easy and that’s when I began approaching financial institutions for support. They said I was too much of a risk. Everyone was telling me to just focus on accounting. I was very disappointed and not motivated.”

That all changed when for the first time he received financial support in the form of R50 000 after entering a competition for creative entrepreneurs looking for business support. The money went a long way in purchasing the necessary infrastructure for his business.

“Before, I used to use my mum’s old sewing machine. A lot of stuff I had to do manually. I didn’t have an over locker.”

It’s still early days for Swagger Diariez in terms of scale, but Mbane is gaining recognition in the industry.

“I’m not yet at the stage of supplying retailers. I’m doing fashion shows. When fashion functions happen I get to judge or supply the clothing. I’m working on fashion week for next year under new generation. It’s kinda weird for me. I’m being recognised for this. I was only recognised since last year but I’ve been doing fashion forever.”

Mbane has a vision for how fashion is interpreted in the place where he is from.

“I really want to change how people view fashion in ikasi where I am from. There’s a lot that fashion can change given crime and the high unemployment rate.”

Mbane is working on establishing a sewing centre in Khayelitsha in order to teach sewing skills and “train kids who want to take on fashion.”

Mbane is walking the talk and challenging those around him with the kind of clothes he chooses to wear.

“At first I was a foreigner guy. People looked at me like I was an alien.”

Once the media began taking an interest in Swagger diariez, “people started taking me seriously. People look at me like I’m insane. People still laugh at the stuff that I wear. “I have never really cared about the response I get. I’m comfortable in the stuff that I wear.”

Jason Staggie

Author and Filmmaker Jason Staggie couldn’t live a life further from his infamous gang boss uncles Rashied and Rashaad, even if he tried. 29-year-old Staggie, who is currently promoting his first book called ‘Risk’, says his last name has seen many a raised eyebrow. The young UCT graduate is the direct nephew of the Hard Livings gang bosses.

“My dad is Rashied and Rashaad’s younger brother,” he explained.

Jason Staggie appears to have a distant, intangible memory of the more nefarious activities that his uncles and father were reportedly up to.

“I feel like I’ve always been sheltered from that lifestyle. There would be snippets of things … I knew that my uncles were doing something because people were talking at school.

“It all came to a head when my uncle Rashaad died. I think I was 12 and that kind of just thrust it all into the spotlight and so more stories came out. I grew up a lot in that year, quite frankly. I found out a lot about my family. I could make sense of everything.

“After my dad went to jail my mom cut us all off from the other side (of the family) and I feel as if the Staggie family went their different ways after my uncle Rashaad died.”

Rashaad Staggie was killed after being shot and burned alive in Salt River, Cape Town in 1996 by members of the vigilante group, People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD).

PAGAD started out with a handful of neighbourhood watch members from Cape Town townships who decided to organize public demonstrations to pressure the government to fight the illegal drug trade and gangsterism.

However, PAGAD began to mete out its version of justice, believing the police were not taking enough action against gangs.

Jason Staggie remembers seeing images of his Uncle Rashaad dying on TV as the media captured his death.

“It was terrible to have seen that on TV. I hope that nothing like that happens again in South Africa … even though people said he did things … he still had a family. There is a certain way to do things.”

Staggie explained that all his life, his surname stirred up emotions in people who recognised his lineage.

“I thought it was a Cape Town thing but I have kind of grown into it. The name has had positive things in my life. I know that I was judged very much so when I was younger, simply based on the fact that I am a Staggie. People would assume that I would do bad things when I was at school; not so much when I was at University because I don’t think people knew. At school, in the road or when you have to sign (people would say) are you really a Staggie, blah blah blah.

“I think it’s given me a very thick skin. I don’t really care what people think and say about me so I don’t take it to heart. I also tend not to judge people anymore. I don’t defend anything anymore. I don’t feel like I need to … when I was growing into the name I would say ‘no, I am not like that’ … these days I don’t care.”

It is this indifferent attitude to others’ judgment and assessment of his capabilities that appears to have driven Staggie to achieve.

He is the first in his immediate family to have attained tertiary education. In addition, he went on to travel the world, having worked in Ireland and South Korea. His passion for filmmaking saw him travelling to Prague, taking up a scholarship to study film there.

He explains where his drive to achieve comes from.

“My Dad got sent to jail when I was very young. I was 14-years-old. Since then my mom has been raising us by herself. Money was always tight. My mom was always anti that whole side of the family. She always felt that that money was bad and was tainted, so I suppose we just had to struggle through. The money that she would spend would always be on education and when I got to High school I just knew that I had to go to University. I think because my mother kept drilling it into me (saying), ‘you are going to university.’

He reckons that his achievements to date have made the rest of the family, especially the younger generation, sit up and take notice.

“I think their parents are looking at me as a role model for their kids. It hasn’t always been an easy path for me, obviously. I think they are telling their kids [‘if Jason can do it given the fact that he had limited resources, then surely you can do it too’, which is the case.”

While he never grew up in Manenberg where his father and two uncles grew up, he moved around the Cape Flats, with his formative years spent in Mitchell’s Plain.

Staggie remembers reading a lot when he was younger and says he found male role models in literature. Now, Staggie himself is an author and is currently promoting his novel ‘Risk’, which he describes as a transgressive novel.

“I wanted to write a transgressive novel, but I really wanted to make it a socially conscious novel so I used stories that I knew from Cape Town.”

His next project is to direct a documentary about his uncles, Rashied and Rashaad.

“I was questioning, you know … these are my uncles. I want to know more about them; what happened, how did they get into this whole thing … can we learn from what happened in the past and find a way for the future regarding other kids in Manenberg and any other township? So I really just wanted to learn from the whole experience and that drives the film.”

Staggie plans to release the documentary early next year and then, he says, move on.

Kim Smith

When Kim Smith was a little girl growing up in Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats she always wondered where the aeroplanes, constantly flying overhead, were going.

Bishop Lavis is situated near Cape Town International Airport and aeroplanes flying overhead are a feature of living in the township.

For Kim it became a symbol of her escape into a bigger world.

The 28 year old explained: "One of the things about living on the Cape Flats is that we were thrown on the outskirts and living on the outskirts meant that we were very close to the airport... and it was very irritating because you couldn't watch TV or have a conversation because this loud noise would be over your head; what stood out for me during all those years and living in a house full of people and not having my own space … what made things different for me was that I was able to look at those things and think 'I want to get out of here'.

"The symbolism of the airplane was how I would get out of it."

Smith did eventually board an aeroplane and now travel is a constant in her life, having first lived in Sweden as a student.

Her latest adventure is an expedition to India next year. Led by seasoned explorers, Liv Arneson and Ann Bancroft - the journey is meant to raise awareness about water. Arneson and Bancroft sought a young woman from each continent to join their expedition and Smith is representing the African continent.

Initially, the trek was meant to take place in Antarctica, home to the world's largest fresh water reserves. However, a lack of funding meant the team went back to the drawing board to re-shape the expedition.

Smith explains: "They have subsequently changed the plan and so now we will be going to India. We will start in the Himalayas and work our way down to the Ganges and that is symbolic because approximately 400 million people rely on the Ganges for water, food, bathing and worship. We will also be connecting with communities and working with them and linking with government officials and try and influence them to do their part in providing people with fresh water."

Smith's participation in the expedition to the Himalayas is one of the many international journeys she has taken to explore the world beyond her humble beginnings in Bishop Lavis.

"I always looked for avenues as to how to venture out of the area and as I grew older I learnt that I need to find a way to do those things," she said.

Smith worked hard at school, seeing education as an opportunity to help her spread her wings.

"I think it's a choice I made. The opportunities are there for everybody and if I can do it then anybody can do it, because I am a typical girl from Bishop Lavis... but it was the choice I made and the opportunities I spotted. It is one thing to dream; it is another thing to make the dream happen. But I must also say family plays a big role. I had my father and mother as role models and they pushed me and I think a lot of people on the Cape Flats don't have that and the family unit is really an important part of any young person’s development."

Smith is pragmatic about the first 22 years of life growing up in Bishop Lavis.

"What I remember about the area is a real sense of community... everybody knowing everybody... walking to the shop and having to greet everyone... living with my parents and my grandparents in one home, so it was a big family in one home."

"Yes, there were times when our parents wouldn't allow us to go to the shop alone because of the dangers, but even so, there was a sense of safety because we always were looking out for each other." While book smart, Smith acknowledges the informal education she received growing up in a tough neighbourhood.

"It was definitely dangerous, but it made you alert and it made us street-smart. You learn things about life and about people that formal education can never teach you."

Theo Ndindwa

When Rambert trained Theo Ndindwa was growing up in Gugulethu as a young child, the only kind of dancing he was into then, was the intricate footwork of a football player. Ballet was the furthest thing from Ndindwa's mind when he first stumbled across the dance classes offered by dance company, Dance for All in the township.

He remembers the discovery well.

"We were basically playing football at Sivuyile College and Philip (Boyd) said to us to come inside and we said no way!"

Phillip Boyd and Phyllis Spira had back then just started the dance company Called Dance for All which has been operational for the past 21 years. Its mission is to provide dance training to children in historically disadvantaged areas.

Ndindwa is one of the company's stars, having danced his way from his humble beginnings in Gugulethu to international acclaim.

But, as a young child with dancing talent, wearing tights was not an easy sell for the young Ndindwa who shuttled between his two passions, football and dance.

He remembers, at the age of ten, being convinced to audition for the Nutcracker which was being staged at the then Nico Malan theatre. He was late for the audition after having first played in a soccer tournament, but was still selected to perform in the ballet.

"It was the first time I saw a ballet and we were like Wow!"

"The Lights, the costumes... we were quite overwhelmed. There were guest principal dancers like Rex Harrington and as boys that inspired us."

That experience made him see "this Ballet thing" through.

"For me, when I saw Nutcracker, was when I realised what dance is and what it means."

Having come from a poor background, the young Ndindwa recognised the opportunities in pursuing dance.

"For me, family circumstances were very hard and this (dance) could be a way for to make a difference in my life. I could see the reality of my life getting better."

Ndindwa trained at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in classical ballet and after matric auditioned at two dance schools in the United Kingdom. He was accepted to both but chose the Rambert School of contemporary dance. He then followed up with further training at the Central School of Ballet. His six years in the UK saw him working, amongst others, in Leeds at the Phoenix Dance Theatre and in Scotland with the Ensemble Group. He returned to South Africa in 2005 and worked with the Cape Town City ballet.

Two years later he launched his own dance company called Ikapa Dance. Apart from creating new dance pieces that have toured internationally, the company has an outreach division teaching children dance in poor areas such as Khayelitsha, Crossroads and Gugulethu, where Ndindwa is from.

He says dance is not something that is actively pursued as a serious occupation in the townships.

"Dance in general is not really well perceived. It's something to do with fun... we try to teach and to expose people that we can tell a story through dance." Ndindwa though, is pragmatic in his message about dance and the opportunities it can present.

"We are not going to take them to amazing places. They are going to do that themselves. Dance for All provided the classes but it was me who did all the work."

And in a journey travelled full circle, Ndindwa was the principal lead in the Nutcracker ballet in 2006 at the Artscape; the ballet which started a life in dance for the wide eyed boy from Gugulethu.

Kendre Allie's

The healing power of working with horses has been well documented and in Kendre Allie's case he is living testimony of that healing power.

Allies remembers his introduction to the stables at Oude Molen as a troubled young boy from the Cape Flats. Today, at the age of 32, he is the proud owner of the stables and in a full circle tribute he is helping other troubled youth from the same background to find peace and healing.

But it's been a long journey for this Urban Cowboy and by his own admission he "went through a bit of mischief.

"Life was always challenging for me; attending school. My mother was the mother and the father at the same time. I was hanging out with gangs and was also being naughty."

Under pressure to do well, Allies tried to vent pent up frustration and anger by riding horses owned by a neighbour.

"Uncle Looti in my community.. he had horses and ponies and I wanted to ride his ponies but I never knew how to ride it properly and I took a chance by just getting on the horse and riding and he used to throw me with sticks and said 'get off my horses', said Allies, smiling at the memory.

"It got a bit upsetting for him and he eventually called me aside and said 'come let me show you what you can do’ and he introduced me to how to feed the horse... and then I saw a guy called Gary Glass at Oude Molen eco village. He had horses and wagons and I was familiar with that because I used to sell scrap and metal to earn a living to pay for school fees and to buy myself nice clothes and then I realised that this is something that I actually do love... the horses and the dogs."

Allies was 11-years-old when he began working with horses at Oude Molen in Pinelands. He remembers brushing horses down in solitude and crying, finally releasing the anger and frustration he felt growing up. These days he is sought after by those working with horses for advice and his self-taught expertise.

"I take people with years of experience who are still learning from me because this is not a sport where you think that you know it all. Even the people on the top level still come out and learn from me because I have a talent that I never experienced before and it is actually showing now through all the years... "

But Allie's main source of pride while working with horses is the chance to pay it forward.

He works with the disabled, mentally challenged and troubled youth, in particular young offenders, and helps facilitate their healing by taking care of and riding the horses at Oude Molen. He also trains youth to take part in show jumping and dressage competitions. Much of this work is done on a voluntary basis including his awareness and animal rescue work he does in communities where horses are kept.

He explains: "I feel like I want to inspire the youth who stand on street corners and I say listen here, let me challenge you or let me challenge the parents and especially those who look after dogs and especially dogs because of the dog fights that they have in communities."

Allies believes that the authorities, appointed as custodians to animals, need to do more in creating awareness in poor communities where horses are used to earn a living.

"We who have horses on the Cape Flats; this is our income where we go out to earn a living with our carts … the person who owns the horse is not the problem; it is the person who is riding the horse, who is renting the horse from the owner who is the problem... For us it means we don’t understand we are taking a chance in order to bring money to the table."

Allie's journey has attracted media attention over the years and it is something he takes in his stride.

"It's a great honour to stand out in the community and especially the community where I come from where I had a bad name, a bad reputation, but actually had a good sense of humour!" he chuckles.

"For me, that made the biggest change in my life, being with animals. From the day that I was 11-years-old, I am 32 today. I'm still with horses and I've grown from one horse to 52 horses. I have taken (this passion) to another level where I am involved with mental institutes because nobody is interacting with the mental institutes I am involved with school projects where people have problems with kids at school. I do voluntary work with NICRO as well. Some kids, they can’t just talk … they have so much anger, the same as I had."

Allies was just 18-years-old when he bought the business The African Horse Company, after saving up the money he earned while working at the stables.

He has not looked back since.

"You know love is only a word we use to show people the soft side of ourselves but the emotion that we do have inside, it is something that nobody can explain. The moment you are new to an animal you feel a bit strange, you feel a bit different and once you realise that you understand the movement and the behaviour of the animal, it builds that trust in yourself and you try to seek a solution and an improvement in that sense..."

After all that he has achieved, Allies, the ‘Cape Flats Cowboy’ is not about to put on his hat and ride into the sunset. His work, by his own admission, is not done yet.

Marlon Parker

It started out as a humble initiative to instil hope in just one person in his poverty stricken community, but it soon propelled Marlon Parker on a journey that, several years later, has spawned an innovative social franchise established in several different countries across the globe.

Reconstructed Living Labs, known by the acronym RLabs is based in Bridgetown on the Cape Flats and employs 70 people.

Parker describes RLabs as a social revolution, principally using technology to impact and add value to communities.

In 2008, the RLabs model started out as a humble one man show with Parker in the driver’s seat, harnessing the momentum of technology as a tool for social change.

He explains how the seed of RLabs was first sown. It was at the time that he was pursuing his PHD in IT at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

“I thought what am I going to do? I wanted to add value in my community ... Yes, my career was going well but something really shook me. I started looking at the park where I played and looked at the little kids who had hope ripped out of them. There was no way things can go well with me while the community suffers. What can I do to instil hope? What do I know? I know technology.”

It was that thought process that led him to volunteer at a not for profit organisation in the community called Impact Direct. He began teaching computer classes to those who were interested in becoming computer literate. That class started with one person learning and Parker teaching with the use of one computer.

The word quickly spread and soon the class grew to 14 young men and women.

Parker obtained permission from his alma mater to teach these eager young people in one of the computer labs at CPUT. It meant Parker had to do several trips in his car to and from Bridgetown, transporting the group to Campus.

The group individually shared their stories on Twitter and began blogging about their experiences after Parker taught them how to use social media to tell their stories.

“One of the guys was an ex-gangster. He couldn’t believe that he had more followers on Twitter than when he was a gangster!” Parker recalled.

Excited by the tools they saw the young people had learned, mothers in the community implored Parker to teach them these social media skills too.

Parker heeded their request by borrowing laptops and setting up a network that saw the launch of the “geeky moms” programme.

Parker deliberately sought to have the empowered young men he taught to, in turn, teach their newly acquired skills to the women.

Parker was then inundated with requests for training by the children of the community and also senior citizens who wanted to learn how to use their mobile phones.

“Then I thought I did what I wanted to do but in 2009 the community requested that the classes continue.”

That’s when RLabs, as it is now known, was officially born.

Parker explains that the name refers to the ideal of reconstructing and transforming communities at a grassroots level. RLabs has an academy which Parker describes as run “for the people and by the people.”

“We have seen a complete revolution of people helping each other.”

Parker confirmed that over 100 businesses have been started as a result of people receiving training at RLabs. Twenty two technology businesses born at RLabs were also started and were invested in. One of RLabs’ better -known innovations came out of the need to help curb the Tik epidemic which is so prevalent on the Cape Flats.

Parker explains: “Nobody knew how to deal with Tik. At the time we had young people ask ‘why don’t we use MXIT (a free instant messaging application) and offer counselling?’

“We built a counselling management system to plug into MXIT of which the co-creators were housewives and ex-gangsters. It was not created in Silicon Valley. It was created here on the Cape Flats.” RLabs also has a technology incubation and accelerator programme.

Parker sums up the ethos guiding the start-ups at RLabs as well as what makes the team at RLabs do what they do.

“The people themselves are the problem solvers. The key thing is if we can’t justify the well-being of people then we won’t do it.”

The Rlabs model has been successfully replicated in different countries across the world and Parker confirmed that Rlabs has been approached to help set up another franchise in Afghanistan.

“We want to reach a third of the world’s population. We basically have reached six million people and we didn’t have to move out of the Cape Flats.”

Cape Flats Rising
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Cape Flats Rising

Mzukisi Mbane

Mzukisi Mbane is used to standing out in a crowd. It is his most comfortable state. The 24-year-old is sporting peroxide blonde hair, John Lennon sunglasses, chequered print stove pipe trousers and a fitted jacket. Against the backdrop of the colour muted township of Khayelitsha, Mbane cuts a bold figure as he poses for a picture in the street.

The street is his runway and the outfit is cause for rubbernecking by passers-by.

Mbane is the founder and creative engine driving the fledging fashion label, Swagger Diariez.

Mbane says he has always been fashion conscious. An attempt to finish a BComm Accounting degree in a bid to secure a financially stable future only further frustrated his true passion. However, only after a dismal academic performance, he gave up his studies in 2010 and took the time to fully pursue fashion.

That decision meant starting from the very beginning. He asked his mother to help teach him how to sew using her old Swinger sewing machine.

“My mom taught me how to use the sewing machine. The first item that I made was a crop top for my niece in 2011 because that was the in thing at the time. I started exploring from then on.” His love for fashion appears to run in the family.

“I come from a background of fashion lovers. My grandma used to love clothes and she would buy clothes and pack it under the mattress... there was just (her) clothing everywhere.”

Looking back on his time as a BComm Accounting student makes him laugh at the obvious contradiction between his studies and his passion. “I was the fashion guy. I would rock up in a blazer and tie. Looking back then I was always going to be in fashion.”

These days Mbane dreams up and makes Swagger Diariez creations from a tiny wooden wendy house behind his mother’s house. He was able to have it built, buy additional fabric and sewing machines after winning a competition rewarding entrepreneurs in the creative space.

Mbane explains what Swagger Diariez means.

“When we talk about Swagger people think about Hip Hop but that’s not it. Swagger is to move with confidence and diariez (refers to) every day you put on a piece of clothing and that is an entry into your diary.”

Swagger Diariez is not township based, explains Mbane.

“The idea was to try something new from ikasi … my idea was to give people from ikasi something that they never had before. It’s not limited to ikasi. My major inspiration is Kanye West. He has always been a part of Swagger Diariez.”

Mbane’s journey as a fashion designer has been completely self -taught.

“I never attended fashion school. I believe I was born to be a designer. Even when I talk to designers they don’t understand how I can draw a pattern.

It’s a lot of Google ‘how to’ and then I would alter what I learned from Google to give it the swag.”

Mbane remembers one video in particular which he stumbled across on the net and instilled in him a sense of confidence in his abilities.

“It was a video about how to make a T-Shirt. She (the instructor) said if you know how to make a T-shirt you can everything else.”

Swagger Diariez has not been without hardship, as Mbane initially struggled to attract financial backing.

“Along the way I thought that it was going to be easy and that’s when I began approaching financial institutions for support. They said I was too much of a risk. Everyone was telling me to just focus on accounting. I was very disappointed and not motivated.”

That all changed when for the first time he received financial support in the form of R50 000 after entering a competition for creative entrepreneurs looking for business support. The money went a long way in purchasing the necessary infrastructure for his business.

“Before, I used to use my mum’s old sewing machine. A lot of stuff I had to do manually. I didn’t have an over locker.”

It’s still early days for Swagger Diariez in terms of scale, but Mbane is gaining recognition in the industry.

“I’m not yet at the stage of supplying retailers. I’m doing fashion shows. When fashion functions happen I get to judge or supply the clothing. I’m working on fashion week for next year under new generation. It’s kinda weird for me. I’m being recognised for this. I was only recognised since last year but I’ve been doing fashion forever.”

Mbane has a vision for how fashion is interpreted in the place where he is from.

“I really want to change how people view fashion in ikasi where I am from. There’s a lot that fashion can change given crime and the high unemployment rate.”

Mbane is working on establishing a sewing centre in Khayelitsha in order to teach sewing skills and “train kids who want to take on fashion.”

Mbane is walking the talk and challenging those around him with the kind of clothes he chooses to wear.

“At first I was a foreigner guy. People looked at me like I was an alien.”

Once the media began taking an interest in Swagger diariez, “people started taking me seriously. People look at me like I’m insane. People still laugh at the stuff that I wear. “I have never really cared about the response I get. I’m comfortable in the stuff that I wear.”

Jason Staggie

Author and Filmmaker Jason Staggie couldn’t live a life further from his infamous gang boss uncles Rashied and Rashaad, even if he tried. 29-year-old Staggie, who is currently promoting his first book called ‘Risk’, says his last name has seen many a raised eyebrow. The young UCT graduate is the direct nephew of the Hard Livings gang bosses.

“My dad is Rashied and Rashaad’s younger brother,” he explained.

Jason Staggie appears to have a distant, intangible memory of the more nefarious activities that his uncles and father were reportedly up to.

“I feel like I’ve always been sheltered from that lifestyle. There would be snippets of things … I knew that my uncles were doing something because people were talking at school.

“It all came to a head when my uncle Rashaad died. I think I was 12 and that kind of just thrust it all into the spotlight and so more stories came out. I grew up a lot in that year, quite frankly. I found out a lot about my family. I could make sense of everything.

“After my dad went to jail my mom cut us all off from the other side (of the family) and I feel as if the Staggie family went their different ways after my uncle Rashaad died.”

Rashaad Staggie was killed after being shot and burned alive in Salt River, Cape Town in 1996 by members of the vigilante group, People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD).

PAGAD started out with a handful of neighbourhood watch members from Cape Town townships who decided to organize public demonstrations to pressure the government to fight the illegal drug trade and gangsterism.

However, PAGAD began to mete out its version of justice, believing the police were not taking enough action against gangs.

Jason Staggie remembers seeing images of his Uncle Rashaad dying on TV as the media captured his death.

“It was terrible to have seen that on TV. I hope that nothing like that happens again in South Africa … even though people said he did things … he still had a family. There is a certain way to do things.”

Staggie explained that all his life, his surname stirred up emotions in people who recognised his lineage.

“I thought it was a Cape Town thing but I have kind of grown into it. The name has had positive things in my life. I know that I was judged very much so when I was younger, simply based on the fact that I am a Staggie. People would assume that I would do bad things when I was at school; not so much when I was at University because I don’t think people knew. At school, in the road or when you have to sign (people would say) are you really a Staggie, blah blah blah.

“I think it’s given me a very thick skin. I don’t really care what people think and say about me so I don’t take it to heart. I also tend not to judge people anymore. I don’t defend anything anymore. I don’t feel like I need to … when I was growing into the name I would say ‘no, I am not like that’ … these days I don’t care.”

It is this indifferent attitude to others’ judgment and assessment of his capabilities that appears to have driven Staggie to achieve.

He is the first in his immediate family to have attained tertiary education. In addition, he went on to travel the world, having worked in Ireland and South Korea. His passion for filmmaking saw him travelling to Prague, taking up a scholarship to study film there.

He explains where his drive to achieve comes from.

“My Dad got sent to jail when I was very young. I was 14-years-old. Since then my mom has been raising us by herself. Money was always tight. My mom was always anti that whole side of the family. She always felt that that money was bad and was tainted, so I suppose we just had to struggle through. The money that she would spend would always be on education and when I got to High school I just knew that I had to go to University. I think because my mother kept drilling it into me (saying), ‘you are going to university.’

He reckons that his achievements to date have made the rest of the family, especially the younger generation, sit up and take notice.

“I think their parents are looking at me as a role model for their kids. It hasn’t always been an easy path for me, obviously. I think they are telling their kids [‘if Jason can do it given the fact that he had limited resources, then surely you can do it too’, which is the case.”

While he never grew up in Manenberg where his father and two uncles grew up, he moved around the Cape Flats, with his formative years spent in Mitchell’s Plain.

Staggie remembers reading a lot when he was younger and says he found male role models in literature. Now, Staggie himself is an author and is currently promoting his novel ‘Risk’, which he describes as a transgressive novel.

“I wanted to write a transgressive novel, but I really wanted to make it a socially conscious novel so I used stories that I knew from Cape Town.”

His next project is to direct a documentary about his uncles, Rashied and Rashaad.

“I was questioning, you know … these are my uncles. I want to know more about them; what happened, how did they get into this whole thing … can we learn from what happened in the past and find a way for the future regarding other kids in Manenberg and any other township? So I really just wanted to learn from the whole experience and that drives the film.”

Staggie plans to release the documentary early next year and then, he says, move on.

Kim Smith

When Kim Smith was a little girl growing up in Bishop Lavis on the Cape Flats she always wondered where the aeroplanes, constantly flying overhead, were going.

Bishop Lavis is situated near Cape Town International Airport and aeroplanes flying overhead are a feature of living in the township.

For Kim it became a symbol of her escape into a bigger world.

The 28 year old explained: "One of the things about living on the Cape Flats is that we were thrown on the outskirts and living on the outskirts meant that we were very close to the airport... and it was very irritating because you couldn't watch TV or have a conversation because this loud noise would be over your head; what stood out for me during all those years and living in a house full of people and not having my own space … what made things different for me was that I was able to look at those things and think 'I want to get out of here'.

"The symbolism of the airplane was how I would get out of it."

Smith did eventually board an aeroplane and now travel is a constant in her life, having first lived in Sweden as a student.

Her latest adventure is an expedition to India next year. Led by seasoned explorers, Liv Arneson and Ann Bancroft - the journey is meant to raise awareness about water. Arneson and Bancroft sought a young woman from each continent to join their expedition and Smith is representing the African continent.

Initially, the trek was meant to take place in Antarctica, home to the world's largest fresh water reserves. However, a lack of funding meant the team went back to the drawing board to re-shape the expedition.

Smith explains: "They have subsequently changed the plan and so now we will be going to India. We will start in the Himalayas and work our way down to the Ganges and that is symbolic because approximately 400 million people rely on the Ganges for water, food, bathing and worship. We will also be connecting with communities and working with them and linking with government officials and try and influence them to do their part in providing people with fresh water."

Smith's participation in the expedition to the Himalayas is one of the many international journeys she has taken to explore the world beyond her humble beginnings in Bishop Lavis.

"I always looked for avenues as to how to venture out of the area and as I grew older I learnt that I need to find a way to do those things," she said.

Smith worked hard at school, seeing education as an opportunity to help her spread her wings.

"I think it's a choice I made. The opportunities are there for everybody and if I can do it then anybody can do it, because I am a typical girl from Bishop Lavis... but it was the choice I made and the opportunities I spotted. It is one thing to dream; it is another thing to make the dream happen. But I must also say family plays a big role. I had my father and mother as role models and they pushed me and I think a lot of people on the Cape Flats don't have that and the family unit is really an important part of any young person’s development."

Smith is pragmatic about the first 22 years of life growing up in Bishop Lavis.

"What I remember about the area is a real sense of community... everybody knowing everybody... walking to the shop and having to greet everyone... living with my parents and my grandparents in one home, so it was a big family in one home."

"Yes, there were times when our parents wouldn't allow us to go to the shop alone because of the dangers, but even so, there was a sense of safety because we always were looking out for each other." While book smart, Smith acknowledges the informal education she received growing up in a tough neighbourhood.

"It was definitely dangerous, but it made you alert and it made us street-smart. You learn things about life and about people that formal education can never teach you."

Theo Ndindwa

When Rambert trained Theo Ndindwa was growing up in Gugulethu as a young child, the only kind of dancing he was into then, was the intricate footwork of a football player. Ballet was the furthest thing from Ndindwa's mind when he first stumbled across the dance classes offered by dance company, Dance for All in the township.

He remembers the discovery well.

"We were basically playing football at Sivuyile College and Philip (Boyd) said to us to come inside and we said no way!"

Phillip Boyd and Phyllis Spira had back then just started the dance company Called Dance for All which has been operational for the past 21 years. Its mission is to provide dance training to children in historically disadvantaged areas.

Ndindwa is one of the company's stars, having danced his way from his humble beginnings in Gugulethu to international acclaim.

But, as a young child with dancing talent, wearing tights was not an easy sell for the young Ndindwa who shuttled between his two passions, football and dance.

He remembers, at the age of ten, being convinced to audition for the Nutcracker which was being staged at the then Nico Malan theatre. He was late for the audition after having first played in a soccer tournament, but was still selected to perform in the ballet.

"It was the first time I saw a ballet and we were like Wow!"

"The Lights, the costumes... we were quite overwhelmed. There were guest principal dancers like Rex Harrington and as boys that inspired us."

That experience made him see "this Ballet thing" through.

"For me, when I saw Nutcracker, was when I realised what dance is and what it means."

Having come from a poor background, the young Ndindwa recognised the opportunities in pursuing dance.

"For me, family circumstances were very hard and this (dance) could be a way for to make a difference in my life. I could see the reality of my life getting better."

Ndindwa trained at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in classical ballet and after matric auditioned at two dance schools in the United Kingdom. He was accepted to both but chose the Rambert School of contemporary dance. He then followed up with further training at the Central School of Ballet. His six years in the UK saw him working, amongst others, in Leeds at the Phoenix Dance Theatre and in Scotland with the Ensemble Group. He returned to South Africa in 2005 and worked with the Cape Town City ballet.

Two years later he launched his own dance company called Ikapa Dance. Apart from creating new dance pieces that have toured internationally, the company has an outreach division teaching children dance in poor areas such as Khayelitsha, Crossroads and Gugulethu, where Ndindwa is from.

He says dance is not something that is actively pursued as a serious occupation in the townships.

"Dance in general is not really well perceived. It's something to do with fun... we try to teach and to expose people that we can tell a story through dance." Ndindwa though, is pragmatic in his message about dance and the opportunities it can present.

"We are not going to take them to amazing places. They are going to do that themselves. Dance for All provided the classes but it was me who did all the work."

And in a journey travelled full circle, Ndindwa was the principal lead in the Nutcracker ballet in 2006 at the Artscape; the ballet which started a life in dance for the wide eyed boy from Gugulethu.

Kendre Allie's

The healing power of working with horses has been well documented and in Kendre Allie's case he is living testimony of that healing power.

Allies remembers his introduction to the stables at Oude Molen as a troubled young boy from the Cape Flats. Today, at the age of 32, he is the proud owner of the stables and in a full circle tribute he is helping other troubled youth from the same background to find peace and healing.

But it's been a long journey for this Urban Cowboy and by his own admission he "went through a bit of mischief.

"Life was always challenging for me; attending school. My mother was the mother and the father at the same time. I was hanging out with gangs and was also being naughty."

Under pressure to do well, Allies tried to vent pent up frustration and anger by riding horses owned by a neighbour.

"Uncle Looti in my community.. he had horses and ponies and I wanted to ride his ponies but I never knew how to ride it properly and I took a chance by just getting on the horse and riding and he used to throw me with sticks and said 'get off my horses', said Allies, smiling at the memory.

"It got a bit upsetting for him and he eventually called me aside and said 'come let me show you what you can do’ and he introduced me to how to feed the horse... and then I saw a guy called Gary Glass at Oude Molen eco village. He had horses and wagons and I was familiar with that because I used to sell scrap and metal to earn a living to pay for school fees and to buy myself nice clothes and then I realised that this is something that I actually do love... the horses and the dogs."

Allies was 11-years-old when he began working with horses at Oude Molen in Pinelands. He remembers brushing horses down in solitude and crying, finally releasing the anger and frustration he felt growing up. These days he is sought after by those working with horses for advice and his self-taught expertise.

"I take people with years of experience who are still learning from me because this is not a sport where you think that you know it all. Even the people on the top level still come out and learn from me because I have a talent that I never experienced before and it is actually showing now through all the years... "

But Allie's main source of pride while working with horses is the chance to pay it forward.

He works with the disabled, mentally challenged and troubled youth, in particular young offenders, and helps facilitate their healing by taking care of and riding the horses at Oude Molen. He also trains youth to take part in show jumping and dressage competitions. Much of this work is done on a voluntary basis including his awareness and animal rescue work he does in communities where horses are kept.

He explains: "I feel like I want to inspire the youth who stand on street corners and I say listen here, let me challenge you or let me challenge the parents and especially those who look after dogs and especially dogs because of the dog fights that they have in communities."

Allies believes that the authorities, appointed as custodians to animals, need to do more in creating awareness in poor communities where horses are used to earn a living.

"We who have horses on the Cape Flats; this is our income where we go out to earn a living with our carts … the person who owns the horse is not the problem; it is the person who is riding the horse, who is renting the horse from the owner who is the problem... For us it means we don’t understand we are taking a chance in order to bring money to the table."

Allie's journey has attracted media attention over the years and it is something he takes in his stride.

"It's a great honour to stand out in the community and especially the community where I come from where I had a bad name, a bad reputation, but actually had a good sense of humour!" he chuckles.

"For me, that made the biggest change in my life, being with animals. From the day that I was 11-years-old, I am 32 today. I'm still with horses and I've grown from one horse to 52 horses. I have taken (this passion) to another level where I am involved with mental institutes because nobody is interacting with the mental institutes I am involved with school projects where people have problems with kids at school. I do voluntary work with NICRO as well. Some kids, they can’t just talk … they have so much anger, the same as I had."

Allies was just 18-years-old when he bought the business The African Horse Company, after saving up the money he earned while working at the stables.

He has not looked back since.

"You know love is only a word we use to show people the soft side of ourselves but the emotion that we do have inside, it is something that nobody can explain. The moment you are new to an animal you feel a bit strange, you feel a bit different and once you realise that you understand the movement and the behaviour of the animal, it builds that trust in yourself and you try to seek a solution and an improvement in that sense..."

After all that he has achieved, Allies, the ‘Cape Flats Cowboy’ is not about to put on his hat and ride into the sunset. His work, by his own admission, is not done yet.

Marlon Parker

It started out as a humble initiative to instil hope in just one person in his poverty stricken community, but it soon propelled Marlon Parker on a journey that, several years later, has spawned an innovative social franchise established in several different countries across the globe.

Reconstructed Living Labs, known by the acronym RLabs is based in Bridgetown on the Cape Flats and employs 70 people.

Parker describes RLabs as a social revolution, principally using technology to impact and add value to communities.

In 2008, the RLabs model started out as a humble one man show with Parker in the driver’s seat, harnessing the momentum of technology as a tool for social change.

He explains how the seed of RLabs was first sown. It was at the time that he was pursuing his PHD in IT at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

“I thought what am I going to do? I wanted to add value in my community ... Yes, my career was going well but something really shook me. I started looking at the park where I played and looked at the little kids who had hope ripped out of them. There was no way things can go well with me while the community suffers. What can I do to instil hope? What do I know? I know technology.”

It was that thought process that led him to volunteer at a not for profit organisation in the community called Impact Direct. He began teaching computer classes to those who were interested in becoming computer literate. That class started with one person learning and Parker teaching with the use of one computer.

The word quickly spread and soon the class grew to 14 young men and women.

Parker obtained permission from his alma mater to teach these eager young people in one of the computer labs at CPUT. It meant Parker had to do several trips in his car to and from Bridgetown, transporting the group to Campus.

The group individually shared their stories on Twitter and began blogging about their experiences after Parker taught them how to use social media to tell their stories.

“One of the guys was an ex-gangster. He couldn’t believe that he had more followers on Twitter than when he was a gangster!” Parker recalled.

Excited by the tools they saw the young people had learned, mothers in the community implored Parker to teach them these social media skills too.

Parker heeded their request by borrowing laptops and setting up a network that saw the launch of the “geeky moms” programme.

Parker deliberately sought to have the empowered young men he taught to, in turn, teach their newly acquired skills to the women.

Parker was then inundated with requests for training by the children of the community and also senior citizens who wanted to learn how to use their mobile phones.

“Then I thought I did what I wanted to do but in 2009 the community requested that the classes continue.”

That’s when RLabs, as it is now known, was officially born.

Parker explains that the name refers to the ideal of reconstructing and transforming communities at a grassroots level. RLabs has an academy which Parker describes as run “for the people and by the people.”

“We have seen a complete revolution of people helping each other.”

Parker confirmed that over 100 businesses have been started as a result of people receiving training at RLabs. Twenty two technology businesses born at RLabs were also started and were invested in. One of RLabs’ better -known innovations came out of the need to help curb the Tik epidemic which is so prevalent on the Cape Flats.

Parker explains: “Nobody knew how to deal with Tik. At the time we had young people ask ‘why don’t we use MXIT (a free instant messaging application) and offer counselling?’

“We built a counselling management system to plug into MXIT of which the co-creators were housewives and ex-gangsters. It was not created in Silicon Valley. It was created here on the Cape Flats.” RLabs also has a technology incubation and accelerator programme.

Parker sums up the ethos guiding the start-ups at RLabs as well as what makes the team at RLabs do what they do.

“The people themselves are the problem solvers. The key thing is if we can’t justify the well-being of people then we won’t do it.”

The Rlabs model has been successfully replicated in different countries across the world and Parker confirmed that Rlabs has been approached to help set up another franchise in Afghanistan.

“We want to reach a third of the world’s population. We basically have reached six million people and we didn’t have to move out of the Cape Flats.”

| An interactive story showing young people changing the narrative of the Cape Flats.

Cape Flats Rising


The Cape Flats, or "the flats" as residents call it, is a vast, low-lying area outside of the central business district of the city of Cape Town.

It is where the majority of the city's non-white residents still reside as a consequence of the racist Apartheid regime's Group Areas Act and pass laws. The oppressive pieces of legislation meant that the people of Cape Town who had lived side by side in a smorgasbord of multi-ethnic and religious persuasions, were separated out and contained in race designated townships. Today, the legacy of these false racial boundaries still exist on "the flats" as a consequence of language and economics, amoungst other considerations of people who live there. 

The Flats is beset with problems of unemployment, poverty, drug addiction and in certain pockets an entrenched gang culture which gives rise to periodic bouts of violence. It is the latter incidence of organised crime that has the most attention.

Cape Flats rising is an attempt to re-frame the gaze on the people who live in this area. The profiles of people, from the area, who are spearheading an alternative narrative about life on the flats through their own achievements, is meant as a direct challenge to the sense of hopelessness captured in the chronicles of the Cape Flats.

This is Part One of our series, eKasi Rising.

Cape Flats Rising


The Cape Flats, or "the flats" as residents call it, is a vast, low-lying area outside of the central business district of the city of Cape Town.

It is where the majority of the city's non-white residents still reside as a consequence of the racist Apartheid regime's Group Areas Act and pass laws. The oppressive pieces of legislation meant that the people of Cape Town who had lived side by side in a smorgasbord of multi-ethnic and religious persuasions, were separated out and contained in race designated townships. Today, the legacy of these false racial boundaries still exist on "the flats" as a consequence of language and economics, amoungst other considerations of people who live there. 

The Flats is beset with problems of unemployment, poverty, drug addiction and in certain pockets an entrenched gang culture which gives rise to periodic bouts of violence. It is the latter incidence of organised crime that has the most attention.

Cape Flats rising is an attempt to re-frame the gaze on the people who live in this area. The profiles of people, from the area, who are spearheading an alternative narrative about life on the flats through their own achievements, is meant as a direct challenge to the sense of hopelessness captured in the chronicles of the Cape Flats.

This is Part One of our series, eKasi Rising.

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