Meaning and Purpose in the Occupations of Gang Involved Young Men in Cape Town.

Lisa Wegner, Ayesha Behardien, Cleo Loubser, Widaad Ryklief, Desiree Smith


Introduction: Involvement in gangs negatively influences the lives of many young men living in Cape Town, South Africa. There is a need to better understand young men’s motives and reasons for belonging to gangs as efforts to reduce gang involvement have shown little success. 

Methodology: A descriptive qualitative study was conducted to explore the meaning and purpose of engaging in occupations related to being a gang member, and the influence on other occupations. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with four participants who were purposively selected from a Special Youth Care Centre in Cape Town.

Findings: Five themes emerged: Why am I where I am?; To strengthen the camp; Attraction to gangs; It’s difficult but it’s life; and Threshold to manhood. The participants’ involvement in gangs meant social support, material resources including drugs and money, independence, thrills and excitement. The purpose of engaging in gang-related occupations was to strengthen the gang, gain belonging, prove manhood and for survival. However, gang-involvement deprived participants from engaging in other occupations and roles including schooling, leisure activities and relationships with mothers and girlfriends.

Conclusions: Understanding gang-related occupations assists occupational therapists to plan relevant programmes to support young men’s disengagement from gangs and reintegration into the community in pro-social ways.  

Keywords: gang-involved young men, occupations, meaning, purpose.

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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