From gangland to big screen: How former 28s General left the gang and lived to tell the tale

From gangland to big screen: How former 28s General left the gang and lived to tell the tale

- Welcome was a 28s General, the highest rank in the gang

- He realised this was the only way to leave the gang without losing his life

- He is now an actor and activist who uses his story to urge others to shun gangs

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A former gang leader has shared how he left the world of gangs and lived to tell the tale through the big screen and motivational talks.

When Welcome Witbooi found himself behind bars at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town at the tender age of 17, he was compelled to join the 28s gang to survive. gathered that he rose through the gang's ranks to become a First Star General, the highest title. Speaking to Daily Maverick, Welcome said he commanded over 2,500 members.

The gang also had a turnover of around R500,000 a month, he said. However, he turned a new leaf and realised he could use his rank to leave the gang alive.

Welcome said:

I was told that there was one way in, and one way out of the Number — through blood. So if I wanted to leave, I would have to die.
So there was a constant fear of leaving. But the deeper I got the more I understood that when moving up to the highest rank, there was a way out.

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Fortunately, his fellow generals allowed him to leave the gang after he got out of prison. He explained:

In the end, it was my education and the things I did outside of prison that saved me. I helped one of the generals to read and write, and another with a relationship. It was this that actually saved my life.

Welcome now gives motivational talks to learners, youths, and inmates who are still in prison. He also worked with producers of the film Four Corners, which sought to dissuade youngsters from joining gangs.

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He made his acting debut in the movie The Forgiven, which stars Forest Whitaker as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In the film, Welcome plays the role of the right hand man of the main gang leader. It was released in the US on 9 March and is set for South Africa later this year.

Welcome, who will also release his autobiography Finally Welcome this year, hopes his efforts would help the youth to shun gangs:

My message to kids who are looking at gangs is that it’s temporary. That money and respect will give you a false sense of power. And as you get it, so soon can it disappear. What you need to become in order to have that power is beyond human.

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