Facing the Challenges
“I used to pick flowers for my mother on the slopes of Paarl mountain where we lived when I was a young boy. I was a real mommy’s boy and loved her so much. My dad also had high hopes for me. We were eight children but he believed I could take my studies further and maybe qualify as a teacher. He wanted me to go to the school where our family members used to go to get a proper education. ”But everything changed when the family was forced out of their home in the early 70’s under the Apartheid regime’s Group Areas Act. Danny was in grade 5 when his peaceful existence was shattered and they were forced to move to the uninspiring Paarl East. He recalls how unsafe and scared he felt in his new suburb down in the valley. He had to toughen up and grow a thick skin fast.
Danny decided not to go to the school his father chose, but followed his new friends to another school in the area. This was the start of a vicious cycle of bunking school, lying to his parents and doing petty crime and it paved the way for him to be fully entrenched in gangsterism before his 16th birthday.
After a series of run ins with the law, he was sent to the William Porter Reformatory School in Tokai because he was too young to go to jail. Boys from all over the country were bunched together to keep them out of trouble, but for most of them things went from bad to worse as the school became a breeding ground for gangs. Because Danny was the leader of the Born Free Kids fighting against the Cape Town Scorpions and the Josters (boys from up North) he was accused of plotting the first murder in the school’s history and gaining a reputation as a trouble maker.
There was no rehabilitation taking place. His time there, together with corporal punishment suffered at the hands of family members and the police, only led him further down the dark, destructive road to a life of crime. He collected tattoos to let others know which rank he holds in which gangs and made calculated moves between different Western Cape prisons.
“I was searching for a sense of identity and trying to make my mark. I wanted to be somebody who others respected, but I ended up being abused and humiliated in the worst way possible.” Danny still finds it difficult to talk about his experiences with the hardcore gangsters from Brandvlei Prison he shared a cell with when he was merely 19 years old. It nearly broke him.
We Shall Overcome
But things changed in his mid-twenties when two things happened; he came to know God and he fell in love with a girl. He lost interest in climbing the gang ranks, and he knew then that he wanted to stay out of jail and start living in the real world. It was while he was doing time at Drakenstein Maximum Prison, he heard the Lord tell him that he has two options: “It was either the death penalty or Eternal Life. God said ‘choose Me, and you shall live’. I remember it clearly. I wanted to live.”
He was released and went to find the girl he loved. “We’ve been married for 31 years now and we have three sons, one of which is a policeman.” Danny found a job at a factory, and when he retired in 1997, he started ministering full-time to people at their places of work.
He has different congregations that support him financially to go out into the communities and be a witness. Especially to the younger people. “I want to tell them that Jesus can really make a difference in their lives and how important it is to finish their education. It’s crucial to warn them of the destructive downward spiral when you become involved with gangs.”
Danny and his wife work together to bring a message of hope with the wholesome meal they hand out in a park three Thursdays a month. He was also involved in an attempt to bring rival gang factions together in a garden of peace gathering in 2004/5.
At the End of the Day
“I was a bitter and angry teenager and young man, and we all saw the apartheid government as the mutual enemy. That helped us justify our actions. We were shouting ‘Liberation before education’, but now we are free. Now education is the gateway to claim that liberty.” Danny is soft spoken but passionate about what he does on a daily basis, “If other people can learn from my mistakes, I will be happy. If I can make a difference in one person’s life, that will mean success for me. I just want to be there, in the community, serving as a role model of someone who turned his life around. I want to give love and attention to the little ones and hope to the older school children. That is my heart’s desire.”