Your Choices Define You
Bonteheuwel is an area plagued with gangsterism and drugs because of this, many schools in the area have up to 20 Law Enforcement Officers on its grounds patrolling before, during and after school hours. For seventeen-year-old student Alicestir Isaacs their presence has both negatively and positively affected his life.
He tells us his story of overcoming the challenges of a violent area and becoming a leader within his school.
Born in Bonteheuwel, Alicestir was raised by his grandmother and mother. He lived with them and his two older siblings, a sister (19), and a brother (6). His parents were never married and they never lived together.
“My dad lives in the same street as us. We have a close relationship eventhough we have never lived together.”
Growing up on a property filled with people, Alicestir says that he found it challenging.
“My aunt has seven kids, all of them stayed with her in the wendy* house at the back of my granny’s house. She is unemployed so she would fetch me from school and take care of me during the afternoon while my mom was at work. To have so many children at home, made it difficult to study and to do my homework.”
Alicestir says growing up in the bad side of Bonteheuwel, he was constantly surrounded by violent events.
“My earliest memory was when I was eight years old, we were playing in the road and I saw a black car driving down the street. The next minute, more than one person began shooting out of the window. I saw a man in the street being shot in the face and stomach. I remember being scared, not knowing what to do.”
“Another incident was a day we came from church and my gran’s neighbour, who was a drug merchant, was shot in the face by a rival ganster. I’ll never forget seeing such a big pool of blood like that day. The biggest challenge of living here is not knowing what will happen next.”
Unfortunately for Bonteheuwel’s youth, violence is a daily occurrence that often continues at schools.
“One day in Grade 8, when my class came out of school we saw three boys ganging up on a boy. The next thing I saw was the three boys taking out knives and stabbing. We were all too scared to help. A few weeks later we found out that the fight left the boy paralysed.”
“Violence continued at school for the next four years. There were always fights between gang rivals, gangsters would come onto the school property and sometimes into the classrooms looking for people. It was hard to learn, because it was always happening. The teachers tried to control the situation, but it was difficult for them because they were also afraid. It sometimes seemed like everything was out of control.”
“The other types of fights would happen between teachers and pupils. Some of my peers had a terrible attitude towards teachers and everytime a teacher tried to discipline them, they would lash out.”
When Alicestir reach Grade 12, the school’s governing body decided that the school required the presence of law enforcement, in order to get control of the situation.
“Being at school with constant law enforcement feels like a prison, the school started with five officers and today there are between 20 and 30 every day.”
“Law enforcement entered the school determined, they would search us every second day. They would randomly stop a class to search learners’ bodies and bags. I found it disruptive because we couldn’t work during that time. They would search the whole class, it would take forever and we would miss our lesson. Many times they would find things on students like drugs or cigarettes and this would create even more chaos.”
“There are days when three or four classes would bunk* at the same time and go to the quad to hang out. The law enforcement would chase them out of the quad and it becomes a hide and seek game through the corridors. The noise of them running around and shouting would echo throughout the school and would be very disruptive. Other times, the law enforcement would lock the pupils in the quad, the learners would then pull and bang on the gates. They would shout and swear at the officers and sometimes even break windows. This would scare the rest of learners and they would only stop if all the law enforcement officers, teachers and principal went there. Once they open the gates the learners would run around the school again until the officers catch them. In the meanwhile, the rest of us would sit and wait for everything to go back to normal. Sometimes the whole day would be lost. I would sit at my desk, open my books and study by myself.”
“It’s difficult to learn when things like that happen, because the school staff get distracted and overwhelmed.”
“Things are better with the officers, even though distractions still happen they tend to be controlled quicker. We no longer have gangsters walking freely in the school.”
Through all the disruptions at home and school, Alicestir has always remained dedicated and driven.
A top-achiever and the Head Boy at his school, Alicestir is proof that focusing on what is important pays off.
“I am a member of the School Governing Body, leader of the school Scripture Union and I am often chosen to represent the school at programmes like the SAPS – Make Bonteheweul Safer campaign and this year at the World Economic Forum Young Leaders Conference.”
“This kind of exposure is really informative and it made me see a life beyond Bonteheuwel. I saw people of high caliber like Yvonne Chaka Chaka who spoke about citizens taking responsibility. She also mentioned that people should be proactive in resolving community issues, it really made me look at things differently. It motivated me to make positive changes within my area, like talk to my peers who are being influenced by the negatives in the community.”
“I am determined to succeed so that I can be an example and show the youth what is possible. I want them to see that somebody who grew up in their area, went to the same school, can make something of their life.”
Alicestir concludes by saying: “Your community doesn’t define you but the choices in your life do. You can be bigger than your circumstances and what the norms in your community dictate to you. Choose to live a life beyond your community.”
Alicestir is a Leaders’ Quest participant.