Youth Gangsters and Girlfriending: Intimate Relations in the Townships

Rosette S. Vuninga


This research adds to the scholarly argument that “work is still needed to provide a more  complex picture of young women's involvement in gangs” (Sutton, 2017: 150). Focusing on Gugulethu (a black township in Cape Town, South Africa), this paper discusses selected aspects of intimate relations between female youth and men involved in gangsterism. It goes beyond describing these women as simple victims of these male gangsters’ ego by paying attention to cases where these “girls” are in control of their men. The conclusion suggests that masculinity expected in gangsterism and the South African township culture are among the outstanding causes behind the manipulations, abuses, and other forms of gender-based violence that women inflict upon their gangster men and which remain overlooked in research as well as in the community. The research found that there are cases where the gangsters’ girlfriends are not just the most benefitting socio-economically from the unlawful activities their men get involved in, but they are also the masterminds behind their men’s crimes which are often accompanied with violence and arrests. The paper draws on the ethnographic approach in the townships, observations, life stories, in-depth interviews and follow-up interviews in Gugulethu.
Keywords: Gugulethu, Gangsters, Gender Violence, Youth, Perpetrators

Rosette S. Vuninga, PhD fellow, University of Western Cape, E-mail:

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