No Longer the Black Sheep
It took the fear of placing his family in dangerous situations to steer Moegamat-Nur Brock (24) away from his troubled early years and his exploration into gangsterism.
Moegamat-Nur was born in Cape Town and raised in Kensington. He has two brothers and one sister and he is the second oldest amongst his siblings. He has always lived with his siblings and parents, both of whom worked.
“I was born into a family that was basically scraping through life financially and trying to make ends meet. We essentially ate the same food every day. But I was content with what I had because at least I had something.”
The first few years of Moegamat-Nur’s life, the immediate family lived with his grandparents in their house.
“My grandparents’ house was next door to the Americans’ gang, one of the most notorious gangs in the ‘Cape Flats’. One day, when I was seven years old, I saw them kill someone in the road. They shot him five times in the head. I never told anyone about it. I was in shock. I feared that if I told anyone that they would come after me. I would see gang fights in our area regularly. For me it was normal, because you would see it every day. I just thought that that was how all neighbourhoods were in Cape Town.
“Even though I was shocked by what I saw at times, I was also fascinated by them to a certain extend. They had control in our area. No one would enter our street without their permission. I felt they protected us from other gangs. They were a mix of good and bad.”
Moegamat–Nur became a troubled child in primary school.
“My parents worked from 08.00 am to 18.00 pm and after school I used to stay with my grandparents. That meant that I had 4 hours to roam around on the streets before my parents were back. It opened my eyes and it influenced me.
“I believe that I began misbehaving at school because I really wanted the attention of my parents. I became a bully at school and got into trouble all the time. My first fight was in Grade 4. I also back-chatted to teachers, bunked school, and became a bully towards my peers. I was the black sheep of the family and I got the attention I was looking for.
“I used to get punished a lot by my father for getting into trouble and for being on the street. He used to beat me up. I would take out, what he did to me, on the next person by bullying in school.”
Despite his troubled behaviour, Moegamat–Nur was a talented soccer player and made it into the academy at Ajax.
“I was 12 years old and there were only two life paths I could imagine for myself. One was to become a soccer player, because soccer players were my idols on TV. The other was to become a gangster, because they were my street heroes (the protectors).
“When I was selected to be part of the Ajax academy, I just knew that I had a chance to make my dream come true. Everyone complemented me for my skills and for how good I was. I could really feel my life taking off.”
Unfortunately, Moegamat–Nur’s dream was short-lived.
“My father saw this as an opportunity to discipline me, to make me behave better, and to make me be more obedient. He threatened me that if I didn’t change my school behaviour the academy would be over. I failed his test and he took me out of Ajax.
“His decision made me resentful. I felt I was not worthy in his eyes. My dreams had just been shattered by my own father. I entered the darkest part of my life.
“My behaviour at school got so bad that my dad was called to school almost every day. It got to the point where a violent bullying streak at school sent my victim to hospital to recover for a week. The boy’s parents had a case against me but our parents talked it out.
“I felt misunderstood by everyone and lonely all the time. No peer in my road would be my friend. I am guessing they were afraid of my short temper. The only people who accepted me were the Americans, and I began to spend more time with them. They were people of all ages. Some where children of my age who had dropped out of school. Their parents belonged to the gang and the children would already be selling drugs during the day. They were my only friends, we would play soccer together. They lived in a squatter camp next door to our road. I started doing drugs at primary school already.”
Eventually, Moegamat–Nur’s family moved into their own house in a different neighbourhood in the same area.
“The new house was bigger than where we were living before. For my parents, this was an achievement. When we moved we got away from the gangsters but I used to walk back to the area after school. I was too connected to them, I had developed a strong sense of belonging, a feeling I lacked at home. They never asked me to join them, they just allowed me to be myself.”
Moegamat–Nur had just started high school. He was 13 years old, and things were getting worse.
“My behaviour from primary school followed me to high school. I would join the gang each afternoon, we would go from house to house drinking and doing drugs. I failed Grade 8. It was just another drop in the glass for my family. The black sheep did not disappoint. Everything I did was wrong in their eyes, and the distance kept growing between us.”
The following year, Moegamat–Nur’s life made a complete turn-around.
“I continued to smoke weed and to drink alcohol. One of my friends used to grow weed in his house, so it was really easy for us to get it.
“My best friend and I befriended a guy at school who we knew was a real gangster. He used to bring a gun to school and show it off. One day, we were bunking on the train lines and the people working on the lines approached us and asked us why we were sitting there and not at school. It felt like they wanted to chase us back to school. The gangster guy just pulled out the gun and started shooting at the train workers. He shot three shots in their direction and they ran for their lives. Who knows if he intended to shoot them. I was shocked and ran home, but I also felt that rush of power – of how powerful someone was with a gun.
“That’s when I was certain I wanted to be a gangster. The gangster guy knew the process and he began teaching us. After some weeks it was time to get a tattoo. The tattoo was a ‘YA’ standing for Young Americans and it was to be placed in our hand between our thumb and index finger.
“My friend got his tattoo first. Next he had to rob someone at school, fight with two people for no reason and we needed to see it. He did it.
“Then it was my turn to get my tattoo. I can’t fully explain what went through my head. A lot of random images, I knew too well the price people paid for being part of a gang. The most vivid emotion that I felt was definitely the fear of what they could do to my family.
“I told them I can’t do it. From that day, I left that group of friends. For once, I used my head and was thinking ahead. I knew that once I got that tattoo that I would be in it forever (blood in blood out). Before I got in, I got out of it.”
For Moegamat–Nur, it was especially his mother’s love which ultimately led him to make a different choice.
“It was more about how my mother would feel about me and the risk I would have put her in. She couldn’t be there for me because she had to go to work. I thought of my mother because out of everyone she was the one I loved the most. When I got out of that situation, it felt like it was divine intervention. In just one moment, I let go of it all. After that experience, I took a step back and I started going to class regularly.”
Moegamat–Nur focused his energy on a new passion.
“I couldn’t play football because my father didn’t allow it. So, I took up skateboarding. I found it was my way out. I got away from those friends. I used to skateboard 24/7. That became the norm. I stopped fighting. I became really thoughtful toward the next person. I made good friends and I passed Grade 9. In Grade 10 you get to choose your subjects and I was now in a different stream, with the ‘nerds’. I was the odd one out, but I became their friend.
“In Grade 10, I became part of the governing body at school. Everyone voted for me. That felt good. Everyone was shocked when they saw I was on the governing body. I think that they thought that the way I had changed had made me strong and that I could give them a voice. They saw beyond what I saw in myself. Although they were nerds I was learning from them. I became hard-working and I was competing with them academically. The previous group of friends I was hanging out with left school because they all failed.”
Moegamat-Nur suffered a setback in Grade 11 when he failed the grade.
“In Grade 11 I tore my ligaments while skateboarding. The injury was big and I missed almost a whole term from school. I was unable to recover the time I lost and I failed the final exams.
“I cried for a solid hour, non-stop. I didn’t want to go back to school. I thought about how people would look at me for failing twice. My mother encouraged me, and told me that I was going to finish matric no matter what. I didn’t want to face anyone. My mother told me to go to my friends and face it. I had to tell people that I had failed. It wasn’t a good feeling. But they didn’t put me down.
“It was very sad on the first school day in the assembly to see all my friends in Matric. I worked hard that year. I passed the year well and I started playing soccer again. Then I went on to Matric. I was 20 years old in my Matric year. I passed matric with a 70% average.
“My parents finally let go of their shackles on me and I got an apprenticeship at a civil company. I worked as a diesel mechanic apprentice. The apprenticeship consisted of 3 weeks of work and one week of college per month. It was good to get out of school and earn a salary. I bought a car and I was able to give my parents money.”
However, Moegamat–Nur was not certain that mechanics was what he had in his heart.
“When my apprenticeship contract expired I knew it was not the job for me. I then joined a coding academy and took up coaching soccer for under elevens. I know how to work with young kids. You just need to be there for them. I started a team of young people playing soccer in my community. It feels good to be giving back and helping young people to make the right choices in life.
“It is strange to think that after so many misunderstanding with my family, we could be able to overcome it and strengthen our bond. Our relationship has improved a lot and I am able to say I am no longer the ‘black sheep’ in the family.”
When asked for his final remarks, Moegamat–Nur concluded: “We need to acknowledge the impact that the environments in which we grow-up have on each of us. People become a liability to society because of the way they are treated and the things they are exposed to. We all crave a sense of belonging and acceptance. If we can’t get it in our homes, with our families, we are going to find it somewhere else. For many young people in the ‘Cape Flats’ the only place they find this bond is within gangs.
Moegamat–Nur is an alumnus of the Life Choices Academy.