MZelo is back, people! You might remember him from Head Spin. This time, he’s back with a two part series and, just like last time, he is taking us for a trip down memory lane.

I grew up in a middle class society. Komarock was my home – an estate in the suburbs. Everything was different in the suburbs. Life moved very slowly. Things rarely changed. Apart from a few, most people placed little or no effort to their progress. People were content with their simple lives away from the rush of the city life.

But to our discomfort, we were engulfed in an endless stream of petty crimes. These crimes were committed by people who felt that the estate belonged to them. It was their turf and they believed that they had control of anything and everything that came through or lived in the estate. They ran the streets.

In America, they call them gang bangers. In our neighborhood, we used to refer to them as ‘rende’.

Understanding the social life of our neighborhood is important in knowing how and why such groups existed.

Believe me, I didn’t live in the ghetto; though most of you rich folks might consider it a ghetto, but it’s not. I lived in a nice, clean, gated estate; with ample security and parking space for all residents. Residents lived together in harmony and had very few arguments save for when their children rubbed shoulders. The place was peaceful and quiet but was ruined and corrupted by its neighbors; the ghetto.

People often went to the neighboring ghetto to purchase items at lower prices. Plus, the closest supermarket was in the ghetto. Therefore, interaction with the people in the ghetto was inevitable. This led to a string of thefts and brutal mishandling of residents living in the ‘luxurious’ estate by the thugs living in the ghetto. This mishandling and constant abuse mainly affected the youth who were harassed and made to feel less of themselves.

As time went by, the youth in the residential area decided enough was enough and came together so as to fight off their oppressors.  As Henry Rollins said, ‘Nothing brings people together more than mutual hatred.’ This unity made them stronger. They were able to go to the ghetto, do their business and shop together in peace. The unified group was a well-oiled machine.

As time went by, the original group started disintegrating into smaller ones. People felt that they could lead their own separate  and distinct lives. These differences in opinion and the emergence of different generations led to formation of so many groups. For the groups to be tougher and be more feared, they engaged in the abuse of marijuana and alcohol.

These were kids that were still in high school but the peer influence was beyond reproach. It came to be known as the bad boy lifestyle. It was known that chics dig bad boys. Thus, all boys wanted to be bad boys, ultimately fueling the growth of these groups.

Everybody wanted to join a group. Not just any group, but a group they felt that was stronger. A stronger group meant respect from boys from other turfs. they also had more manpower which meant retaliation would be hard and painful for all those who crossed their line. The gang wars were so many at times that the night would be filled with sounds of screams and breaking glasses.

People always knew the members of stronger groups. Even the joining of a new member was known by all. That’s how their vines worked. Such intricate and disciplined communication helped greatly in the maintenance of ‘peace’ and ‘cohesion’.

If you owned anything fancy, then it would be in your best interest to leave it at home. People were hazed and robbed in every corner of the estate. Once you crossed paths with any gang, you were given two options: surrender the items peacefully or get a beating from a mob and still lose the item. I think the choice was pretty crystal.

If you weren’t part of any crew, then they’d easily sniff you out. After which, you’d be marked as easy prey. If one felt that the gangs considered them to be easy pickings they would pray; pray that they only be robbed. Because, with the gang, there were worse things than being robbed.

Neither had I joined any gangs nor saw the reason to do so. Also, I had never been robbed or hazed before and I never understood why. Was I special? Most likely. Maybe it was my height. I was pretty tall for someone my age. Maybe they found it intimidating.

All my friends got robbed of their pretty jewelry. It was painful since we always assumed ornaments like ‘shambalas’ and ‘bling’ made us look more catchy, trendy and sexy to the fairer sex.

The gangs made sure they stripped everyone of anything they could sell or keep for themselves. I heard a story of a friend who claimed that they had robbed him of his new kicks. 

Naturally, I didn’t believe him as I had never heard of anyone robbed off their shoes before. But then, as time passed by, he showed me another gang member wearing the shoes proudly in the open. 

He couldn’t do anything but watch his brand new shoes getting appraisals from other people and looks from the ladies. I could tell it was painful but the smartest thing he did was stay away from trouble.

These gangs went to the extent of carrying knives to intimidate anyone who didn’t comply. Therefore, staying clear of them and being cooperative when confronted was in your best interest.

I always believed that it was luck that I never got robbed. Or hazed. All my friends had been robbed so many times that they preferred walking with me to rub off on my luck. When walking with me, you were  immune to the hazing. It had come down to hazing since they had already stolen every other valuable item my friends had.

Due to the over compliance of people, the gangs missed the violence so they resorted to new methods to start up quarrels and violence. When they spotted a target, they’d send the youngest and smallest member of their group to go and ‘peacefully’ ask you to surrender your valuables.

Obviously, if you are bigger than the unarmed and tiny thief you’d result in shoving him aside and even throw in an abuse to make you feel happy about yourself. The gang members would then emerge from the shadows, beat you senseless and steal all your merchandise. It was an endless vicious cycle of violence. And they loved it.

All my friends went through this and were even subjected to more humiliation like squatting in public or being urinated on only to try and spark any sort of resistance.

There were places in the estate we just heard of and never went to. These places were out of bounds. Not by word of mouth but from belief. The belief that getting to those alleys of the estate warranted a beating. If you owned a bicycle, it was wise to ride it around your home so that if you do spot any gang affiliated person or just a whole gang you can easily access your home.

Funny thing about bicycles, they’d never take them forcefully, you’d find yourself giving it to them. If you didn’t, then they’d mark you as you cycled away. If you were slow they’d quickly catch up with you and you’d still end up surrendering it.

While stealing a bike they’d use the same line over and over again. I never knew why and yet the person offering them the ride always knew that it’s the last time that they’d see it.  

They’d always say, “Just give me your bicycle I circle to that vehicle,” while pointing to a nearby packed vehicle. You’d give it to them and watch as they’d  glide past the vehicle and disappear into a corner as their friends dispersed, while laughing at you.


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