Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “Crime”

Would you forgive your hijacker?

It’s the kind of question most of us hope we’ll never have to ask ourselves but one which Colleen and Fanie Bantjes had to grapple with after their traumatic experience. Roger Wood reflects on their moving story and how forgiveness has the power to transform and heal.

Photo Credit: Charlotte90T via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Charlotte90T via Compfight cc

I recently challenged a post which had been made on Facebook. The writer had implied that all domestic workers would steal from their employers.  I challenged him on the this and in response the writer asked if I was “living in the real world”.  Sadly, I am and it’s not a very nice world; it’s a deeply divided one.  In many ways these divisions are a legacy of the entrenched attitudes from our past. These can be hard to change but Paul encourages us in Romans 12: 2 to, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” But how are we to do this when hurt and brokenness run so deep on both sides?

One story I read in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago really helped me understand what this could look like practically – and in the process somewhat restored my faith in people. The story referred to Colleen and Fanie Bantjes who relocated from Johannesburg to Yzerfontein in 2004 to escape the crime in that region.

In January 2005, they decided to visit the Fossil Park near Langebaan and just before entering the park they stopped at the side of the road to make a phone call.  Suddenly a man was standing on the driver’s side of the car, pointing a gun at Fanie.  He got out of the car to give the phone to the man but a scuffle ensued.

Colleen, a committed Christian, says, she never prayed so hard in all her life.  Somehow, Fanie managed to get back in the car but stalled it as he tried to pull away.  The man by this time had moved to Colleen’s side and was pointing the gun at her. He pulled the trigger and by some miracle the bullet missed her although she was covered in cuts from the broken glass. At that point a policeman coming off duty who had seen what had happened stopped his car and with Fanie’s help caught the man.

The hijacker, Brian Pienaar, then in his early 20’s was sentenced to 23 years in prison for attempted hijacking and attempted murder.  Colleen contacted Brian in prison and sent him a Bible.  They kept up the correspondence and she sent him items to help with his schooling and clothing, such as a pair of pyjamas.

In 2011, Brian wrote to Colleen and Fanie to say that his mother had died.  He said he cried for a week.  He had had no contact with her for two years and this experience made him realise the need “to make right the wrong that you did to other people, because you don’t know if you will ever get another chance to say sorry.”  He went on to say that he was sorry for what he had done to them in 2005.

Colleen had forgiven Brian long ago and, with her husband’s support, she continues to encourage him knowing that he is beginning to put his life back together and getting training whilst still in prison.

How do we build relationships with those who may have hurt us?  By living out those words which many of us pray regularly, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12)  It’s not easy, but once we realise how much it cost Jesus to forgive us, we begin to recognise that none of us are perfect.    Ephesians 4 : 32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Many of us have enjoyed the privileges of nice homes, caring parents, good schooling and many career opportunities.  Brian grew up on the Cape Flats, surrounded by alcoholism, abuse, gangs and crime.

In a poem “Who’s to blame”, Brian writes:

The kid is not the owner of the illegal shebeen

or the manufacturer of the deadly methamphetamine.

Nor is the kid the big drug dealer in town

who’s breaking our friends and families down.

So next time if you want someone to blame

first ask yourself, “Who’s running the game?”

– Roger Wood is a retired educator presently working as a volunteer with Common Good.  He is a member of Common Ground Constantiaberg AM.

To read the full article discussed in this post click here.

Can you think of a situation in your own life where forgiveness could lead to healing – or already has?

P.S. Other great posts to read on relationship building: Video: Bridge Walkers and Designed for Diversity

P.S.S. Have you been following the Trayvon Martin case in the US? Here are two articles that really stirred us: His name is Messiah and Lament from a White Father

Step by Step – Pollsmoor Prayer Walks

A group from one of the prayer walks with Michael and his wife on the far left.

Every month, a group of Common Grounders pray their way around Pollsmoor Prison. Michael Elston shares how these walks have impacted him. 

My wife and I first started going to the monthly Pollsmoor prayer walk over a year ago. Initially, we both thought it may be a bit “hectic” and a bit “out there” for us. Since then we’ve been regulars and have also got most of our small group involved. All of us just keep wanting to go back! I guess it’s because we get to see God at work in such a vivid way. It’s such a privilege to partner with others in faith to see radical change in the prisons and our country. Each time we come away reminded of how little separates us from those we pray for.

Monthly, we hear testimonies of lives that have been affected by prayer. We come away so encouraged! Our worship leader, John, gave his life to Christ while a prisoner, getting caught up in the gangs in prison. He heard the sounds of prayer and worship every month from the prayer walkers and his heart slowly softened to the calling God had for him. He entrusted his life to God while a prisoner and is now serving us and those behind bars gloriously.

Through the prayer walk, run by Hope Prison Ministry, we’ve heard of families wrecked by murder being reunited, run-away daughters seeking forgiveness from their parents, and gangsters publicly denouncing their allegiance to the prison gangs. The stories of God working among us abound, yet our hearts in prayer continue to cry out for more of Christ’s work.

Luke, who runs the prayer walk for Hope Prison Ministries, said:

“The faithfulness of the prayer walkers at Pollsmoor is not only a massive encouragement to those of us that work inside the prisons (wardens), but it is also a huge witness to the clients who are locked behind the bars. So often the response from the clients, is one of that they cannot believe that people would come out at night and pray for them. That people from outside who don’t even know them would love and care for them so much that they would give up an evening to pray for them to be freed from this life that they live. That they would pray for gangsterism to be gone and for our correctional facilities to turn from prisons into palaces of praise!

“The prayer walk reminds me of the story from Daniel, where Daniel sent his request to the Lord and it took three weeks to receive an answer because of the war that was going on in the heavens, and the fact that the angel Michael had to come and fight. For me this is what would summarise the prayer walk, we are fighting a battle in the spiritual realm– one that we often don’t see, but one that is being won because of the prayers going up from 60-80 saints every month. What a joy and what an experience it is to be on the front line for the Lord, fighting against the physical battle which is crime in this country and fighting the spiritual battle for souls to return to their maker. Praise God.”

I end with the words of one of the songs we sing as we walk the Pollsmoor grounds:

“If you believe and I believe… the Holy Spirit will come down, and Pollsmoor will revive!”

– The Prayer Walks take place on the first Thursday of every month from 7-9.30pm. Would you like to find out more? Email

Moving into Manenberg

By Sam Rawson

Pete and Jonathan at The Warehouse

Moving into a community that is notorious for its high levels of crime, gangsterism and substance abuse is a challenge few people are willing to take on. But in May 2010, after a year of doing community work in the area, Pete Portal, a 26-year-old from London, made a three-bedroomed house in Manenberg his permanent home – and a 19-year-old recovering heroin addict his digs mate.

If you’re from Cape Town, your jaw is likely hitting the floor. The area, created by the apartheid government as part of the Group Areas Act, has had a difficult time shrugging off its reputation as the gangland of the Western Cape.

And you don’t have to look far for evidence. Gang slogans and symbols are graphically spray-painted onto walls throughout the area, forming a constant reminder of the dangerous powers at play. So what would inspire someone not originally from the community to move into this area?

Read more…

Breaking chains

By Deborah Cuthbert

One of my favourite musicals is Les Misérables.  Jean Valjean, an ex-prisoner, faces rejection by society until he is taken in by Bishop Myriel.  During the night, however, he ransacks Myriel’s house and flees, but is caught and brought back.  Instead of condemning him, Myriel gives Valjean two silver candlesticks which he said Valjean “forgot” and tells him to “go and make an honest man of himself.”  As Monsieur Madeleine, Valjean makes good on this “promise” and prospers as a factory owner, upstanding citizen and mayor.  However, he is doggedly pursued by policeman Javert, who wants to unmask his true identity.  What a picture of the journey an ex-offender makes back into society– where he or she faces too many Javerts and too few Myriels!

While for some, an offender’s time in prison results in an individual turning from crime, this is not the norm.  An estimated 85% of the 6 000 people released monthly from prison in South Africa go on to reoffend.  The offender spends days of little activity in close proximity to seasoned criminals and prison gangs.  They also lose contact with law-abiding support structures such as employment, friends and family.  When they leave prison, their needs are great.  It’s not just about ensuring that they have accommodation, food and work – they need a lot of support and guidance.

What can individual Christians do?

There are a number of NGO’s and ministries involved in working with offenders, such as NICRO, Young in Prison, Prison Care and Support Network, Realistic, Prison Fellowship International, Andrew Murray Centre and Hillsong.  I will concentrate on some of the things done by Hope Prison Ministry, with whom Common Good partners.  Last year, I had my first opportunity to visit Pollsmoor Prison and sit in on a Hope course.  I had always been intimidated by the thought of going into prisons and speaking to prisoners, but found that I actually enjoy going and speaking to them.

What can I do?

A lot!  How about:

Praying  for those involved in working with ex-offenders; for the ex-offenders themselves and their families and victims?

Donating non-perishable items to the Hidden Treasures shop in Plumstead or volunteering a few hours a week there (they’re at 142 Main Road – tel 071 861 2283)?

Joining prayer walks at Pollsmoor on the first Thursday evening of every month? Email to sign up for the next one – you’ll need to send through your full name and ID number.

Working with the prisoners themselves?  Hope Prison Ministry runs Bible studies, skills and arts programmes and restorative justice courses (which aim at enabling the perpetrator to seek forgiveness from the victim and/or his or her family).

Thank you to the following people for their input into this article:

Vanessa Padayachee (NICRO)

Adrian Strydom (Hope Prison Ministry)

About the author: Deborah Cuthbert is a relief librarian at the University of Cape Town.  She has just completed an honours degree in criminal justice.

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