Until the end of apartheid and the birth of the 'New South Africa' there was no juvenile justice system. But on an abandoned apartheid-era army base on the outskirts of Cape Town, children as young as 12 years old convicted or awaiting trial on charges of drug possession, assault, theft, rape and murder are imprisoned. The youth detention centre takes advantage of the austere barracks and sprawling grounds to host classes, arts, and sports.
But with much of the teenage population there being repeat offenders, there are clearly deeper societal issues that keep pulling these kids back into the gates of places like this. Western Cape province has some of the worst gang prevalence in the country. The most entrenched gangs' origin stories go back to the forced relocations of Blacks and Coloured families in keeping with apartheid policies.
Although about half of Western Cape province identifies as Coloured, the overwhelming majority of those in the criminal justice system are Coloured, the ethnic group positioned uneasily between the economically powerful Whites and the politically and numerically dominant Black populations. Western Cape province is the one part of the country where Coloureds are the majority, but in addition to being plagued by the poverty that afflicts Africans as well, there is an issue
In many ways the young men are still kids, tearing out pages from magazines to stick on their walls and competing fiercely in football and rugby. One, an aspiring opera singer, was regularly allowed to leave to take classes at the University of Cape Town. It was a privilege that at times made him a target of his fellow prisoners, but usually worked in his favor. For those without such talents or the focus to find new passions or at least new distractions, nearby Pollsmor Prison, former home of Nelson Mandela, is ready to take in those young men who prove too much for the juvenile system.
This was shot in 2011 while studying abroad.