Young men’s perceptions and experiences of disengagement from gangs and the effect on their occupational performance
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Street gangs have become a permanent feature of the social landscape in the Western Cape, South Africa. Various strategies have been developed to address the issue of gangsterism. The study focused on one strategy, disengagement. Disengagement is regarded as the process in which active gang members withdraw from their affiliated gangs and re-integrate into society. Much of the research that has been conducted in the area of disengagement has been done internationally, and there is very little research that explores how youth leave gangs within the South African context. Therefore, the current study explored young men’s perceptions and experiences of disengaging from gangs and how occupations facilitate and sustain the disengagement process. In the present study, occupation is defined as activities and tasks of everyday living that give meaning or value to one’s life. Occupation is associated with health and well-being, but occupations can also be unhealthy and dangerous. A qualitative approach, using an explorative research design, was adopted in order to explore the topic within a South African context, namely the townships of Nyanga and Langa, which are located on the Cape Flats. Through the use of purposive and convenience sampling, ten members of two groups, namely, the Peace Team and Project Playground, were invited to participate in the study. The Peace Team was established in 2013 by former gang members in response to the conflict amongst the youth of Nyanga and to encourage gang members to leave gangs. Project Playground is a Non-Governmental Organisation that services the areas of Langa and Gugulethu through a variety of community development projects and after school programmes. An initial focus group was conducted with some of the participants. Thereafter, semi structured interviews were conducted with each of the ten participants (until data saturation was reached). After the individual interviews were completed, a second focus group was conducted with some of the participants to discuss and explore issues that were uncovered during the individual interviews. All focus groups and interviews were voice recorded and transcribed verbatim, and transcriptions were then compared to the recordings to assure accurate reflections thereof. Thematic analysis was used to identify codes, categories and themes. Once transcription was completed coding was commenced. Through the use of codes, the researcher was able to reorganize data in a way that facilitated the interpretation and enabled the researcher to organize data into categories that were analytically useful to the study. Categories were then grouped in sub-themes and finally themes, based on similarities and patterns. Rigor and trustworthiness was ensured through various means including triangulation of data sources (multiple participants), data gathering methods (focus groups and individual interviews), member checking, keeping an audit trail and reflexivity. Ethical clearance was obtained from the Senate Research Committee of the University of the Western Cape, registration number 15/7/86. From the data five themes emerged to form the findings. These themes were: (1) The reason why, (2) The price of gang life… the fine print, (3) Time to get out… I didn’t sign up for this, (4) Getting out and staying out, and (5) The price of my freedom. The study contributed to current knowledge in occupational therapy and occupational science regarding how engagement in meaningful occupations promotes health and well-being. In understanding these occupations and what meaning they hold, it assists occupational therapists in planning, implementing and evaluating appropriate interventions to help gang members to disengage from gangs and engage in meaningful and healthy occupations that support their reintegration into the community in pro-social ways.