If you asked me to take you to the hub of crime and gangsterism, I would take you straight to the township of Soweto, Johannesburg. Every boy in Soweto grew up playing football on the dusty streets with a ball made of plastic bags, but it was a different story for Sipho Sibaya who spent most of his time playing his guitar. Sipho had excellent guitar skills and his voice was melodious. The guitar was the only thing Sipho’s father had left for him. His father had been shot dead and left in a pool of blood years back and no one had been arrested for that murder. After his father’s death, Sipho had to drop out of school to look after his family, because no one was working and as an elder brother, he had to put food on the table.

Sipho went out to look for a job and he found one in Johannesburg at some retail store. He was paid R700 monthly but R400 was for the taxi fare, which meant he only brought R300 home and it was not enough to cover food and toiletries etc. They went to bed with empty stomachs on many occasions and this bothered Sipho because he thought he was failing his family as an elder brother. Sipho thought ‘enough was enough’ and he joined a gangster gang. Things started to change in their family because they were no longer going to bed hungry and Sipho gave them money to cover everything they needed. When Sipho’s mother asked where he got the money from, he responded with: “Aah Mama, don’t worry. I got a promotion at work”.

During the day, Sipho would pretend to be at work in the city, but he just went there to mug people with his gang and he came home at around six at night. Then he would disappear at midnight to join his friends on their campaign of robbing people with guns and other life-threatening weapons. This happened for about five years and he was maintaining his family well but sadly, it took other people’s lives to achieve that. We all know that robbery involves murder at times. Sipho’s mother had always read the Bible for her children at night, but now Sipho was no longer keen on that and he and the Church were as far apart as east and west.

Sipho was 28 years old and had 10 years of experience in the game. He had blood on his hands, but he had never tasted prison food and he had never been incarcerated. He was the leader of the gang after his other pals were shot dead during a bank robbery. Luckily Sipho was not there that night because he was sick. Everyone in the township knew that Sipho was a gang leader. Even his own mother knew that her son was a gangster after she found two loaded guns and a knife under Sipho’s bed.

It happened one Friday night that Sipho’s mother had to attend a night vigil of a certain church member who had passed away and Sipho saw this as an opportunity to go to the shebeen with his friends. Sipho left his four siblings alone at home and went to Bra Bongo’s shebeen. They happened to have a fight with another gang and three of Sipho’s friends were shot dead. Sipho was shot in the leg and he was admitted to hospital.

When Sipho’s mother arrived home in the early hours of the morning, she found people trying to fight a fire at her house, but it was too late. Her four children had died inside the house and she was also told that Sipho had been involved in a shooting and he was in hospital. She had such a shock that she died on the spot. Sipho got the news later that his four siblings had died in a fire and that his mother had a heart attack and died.

Two years passed and Sipho was no longer a gangster, but rather an award-winning Gospel musician. He had decided to go to church and change his life after so many years. His excellent guitar skills and wonderful voice helped him win the SA Idols Competition and he was awarded a lot of money and a record label. Against all the odds, Sipho overcame his criminal past and the criticism of other people. Now I get it why a wise man once said: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.