Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 41

to develop structures in utero and shortly after birth
to enable it to survive in a hostile environment.
His thesis is that the embryo is formed by three
distinct information systems: the father’s
DNA, the mother’s DNA, and the
environment in which the baby
finds itself, both before and after
birth – particularly when the
mother is living in a high-stress
and dangerous environment,
probably taking drugs, not
getting enough to eat or
enough sleep. The end result,
he believes, is a child growing
up with a predisposition towards
danger, drugs and gangs.
“The brain is saying ‘build more
dopamine, the high-stress stuff, be
alert to danger, boost the warrior gene’,”
says Pinnock.
and its scope. Youths who grow up in relatively
stable family units, where grandparents take on the
parenting roles of extended families, and where
they are loved, could turn out very differently to
the kids next door – even graduate from
university, while others are shot in the
street as teens.
And to make matters worse, the
entire system perpetuates the
cycle. He reels off the statistics:
a third of all Cape Town
children are cared for by a
single parent; a quarter have a
parent or sibling who has been
jailed; 15% lived in a household
that had no working adult.
Don’t get him started on
education. “(Some) 317 331 kids on
the streets don’t get to matric - and
that’s just in Cape Town.”
It’s a thesis, he says, that “collapses the dichotomy
between nature and nurture” – and, he grins, “puts a
lot of strain on Darwinism.
All of this pushes youth into gangs, where there
is an outlet for their energies and rituals that give
them acceptance, status and respect.
“At the heart of the gang problem there might be
a health problem,” he says, “a higher propensity for
risk-taking, using drugs, being violent.”
Cape Town, says Pinnock, has a youth problem of
which gangs are a natural consequence, not the
other way around.
Fatherless homes
Common-sense solutions
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most
of the children are growing up in fatherless homes,
which leads boys, in particular, to carry a sense of
shame with them into adolescence. “They wonder:
‘What did I do to make my father leave me?’“
Pinnock’s book also has solutions. Some of them
are controversial; others, plain common sense.
Like rethinking crime and punishment, instead
of sending delinquents to prison to emerge as
proper, hardened criminals; rethinking education
towards creating young adults who are actually
employable – particularly those who do get
sentenced to jail; bringing back community
nurses to do home visits to help young mothers
raise their babies properly, particularly in the first
few months after birth.
This father-love to which they aspire is often found in
gangs, where they act out their impulses even more
violently to gain the approval of the gang leaders
who fulfil that fatherly role.
Their drug use, too, Pinnock argues, is not purely
addictive, but rather driven by the quest for a
‘chemical hug’, a temporary and fleeting replacement
for the emotional attachment they’ve always craved,
but never received. Drug use, he says, is driven by
the user’s innate sadness.
Pinnock’s studies, this time, took him from the
gangs themselves to a deeper study of adolescence
and delinquency, given that most of the gang
members were school drop-outs from broken
Delinquency, he found, was a natural state of all
adolescent progression through to adulthood;
indeed, the absence of it in an individual is actually
the aberration, not the other way around.
The difference lies in the duration of the delinquency,
Pinnock’s more controversial call is for the
decriminalisation of drugs. He cites the success
of Portugal in this regard, where levels of
addiction were dramatically reduced and the
market for illegal drugs eradicated – freeing
police resources to pursue serious crime, while
treating drug addiction as a health issue, not a
justice issue.
Breaking the lure of the streets can only be
achieved, he says, by giving young men back their
identities and sense of self-worth.
By Kevin Ritchie, Saturday Star.
Images from Gang Town. Gang Town by Don Pinnock
is published by NB Publishers. Read an extract.
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 36

Saturday StarNB Publishersextract

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