HCA hosted one-time gang boss, Magadien Wentzel, in the Jubilee Hall on Thursday last week; the event was well attended by both pupils and staff.
There is a cruel irony in Magadien Wentzel’s story. Amidst the heightened resistance and repression of the 1970s, a second-year law student was arrested when the security police intervened during civil protests at the University of the Western Cape. This man, like many others, was detained without trial and was absorbed by South Africa’s prison system, despite his never having been convicted of a crime.
Highly frustrated and deeply resentful, Wentzel was drawn to one of SA’s infamous prison gang. Recounting a number of spine-chilling incidents (including the stabbing of a warder), Wentzel detailed the years-long journey that led him to become the single highest-ranking members of the 28s gang.
It was not until a freak tornado struck his family’s Manenberg home in 1999 that Magadien Wentzel resolved to turn his back on the gang. Still in prison, the headman announced his intention to abandon the number, fully aware of the fact that this was punishable by death under the laws of his gang. To his surprise, he recalls, this announcement was met with resounding applause from his fellow inmates.
Wentzel was released shortly after, and has since dedicated his life to forging a better society. He has worked as a mediator, instrumental in de-escalating conflict between rival groups on the Cape Flats. Other issues close to his heart are education and sustainable development.
Drawing on his own experiences, Wenztel spoke passionately on the importance of utilising the tools afforded to us at Westerford and challenged the audience to cultivate a personal sense of responsibility that allows for growth in the wake of mistakes or transgressions.
*Author Jonny Steinberg recorded the intense and inspiring story of Magadien Wentzel in his book entitled The Number. A film adaptation of the story, called 28, will be available on the domestic circuit soon.
Nadia Odendaal, 12