I’m Dean Jates. I grew up in Bonteheuwel, one of the first coloured communities in Cape Town in the Western Cape. My mother and father both grew up in Bonteheuwel – they met here after forced removals.

There was not enough income in my parents’ families after they were uprooted by forced removals, so the children needed to go and work when they were young.

On my mother’s side, there were three children. My grandfather had cancer so he couldn’t work and my grandmother was a domestic worker. On my father’s side, it was the same scenario, except there were more children. When my father was supposed to go to school, it was expected that he look after the older brothers’ and sisters’ children. But not everything was as bad as it may seem. There was also a lot of good stuff happening.

I went to a primary school called Pioneer Primary and then later went to Bonteheuwel High Secondary School. My mother was always the maintainer of the spirituality and humanity[1]Referring to human/moralistic values such as kindness, caring, respect etc. within our household, while my father was the logical thinker, who maintained the humanity both within and outside the household. He was always reading, always empowering himself; he was an entrepreneur from early on. When he lost his job he went on his own, making burglar bars and my mother provided the support. It created a culture within our family of saying: “You know what, we only need ourselves in order to empower ourselves.”

My sister is younger than me. She’s teaching. This year she will finish her PhD. She was always a bookworm. She got kind of like, “hoe sê julle mense in Engels nou – skiet kans?” – a gap that she could take advantage of. When I finished school in 2001, I really wanted to study IT, but I needed to go and work because no one had been working for four years in our household. When I got a job at Mr Price my sister was able to go to varsity because I was now supporting the family. As the oldest, you always have a tougher time.

My father was on mandrax. But that wasn’t a choice. I’ve only realised that since I became a father.

He was on drugs – not to the extent that he would neglect his household. He kept the house to a high quality, where my sister and I had our own bedrooms, as well as the necessities. Our fathers came from an era of very strong masculinity where the father isn’t supposed to show any emotion. They’re not supposed to hug, they’re not supposed to compliment other people – not even their wives – in public, because that’s considered unmanly – “jy’s ‘n moffie” [you are homosexual] so to speak. That’s the reason why many of our fathers went for alcohol and drugs – in order to suppress those feelings.

Even though my father was on drugs for a few years in his youth and early adult life, he had more kindness than many people who are very religious, and he still fulfilled his responsibilities. I think society perceives fathers as not being good parents. My father made sure that there was food and education, and he created a really nice environment to nourish us. No one in my family does drugs – no alcohol, not even cigarettes. What’s the influence, the reason we’re not into all that? Well, I can say it was my father.

It’s very difficult to change the public perception of fathers.

My son is now three years old and he lives separate from me in the Eastern Cape, so I’m going through a difficult experience myself. Mothers have so many rights with regards to their children, by nature and by law. In our communities, fathers are perceived only as the money givers – but what about the father who is really showing all kinds of support? Emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially. Fathers have a lot of red tape to go through. I have fought with social workers, judges, police and hospital staff for not recognising my constitutional rights as a father.

Many fathers don’t play an active role. Or perhaps they are physically involved saying, “look I’m walking with my child and that stuff”, but there is still a hardness towards the children. My father realised he needed to be loving towards us, but for men from an era of masculinity, it’s very difficult to do that because they did not receive love from their own fathers. This is a culture that’s been passed on to the next generation. My father’s actions of love and kindness towards my sister and I made it easier for us to be loving.

I am addicted to music. Music is like a legal drug.

It’s like an uncontrollable substance for me. I was drawn to the sound of R&B and Hip-Hop. Every day I would sit around the radio, and one Friday night in 1996… Oh, my word I will never forget that day – I wanted to record music from the community station, Bush Radio (98.5), so I’m tuning from one side of the radio to the other side, and it came to 98.5 Bush Radio. They were talking about “awe my broer”, people that speak like me, Afrikaaps! You can imagine what went through my mind when they started to play “Die Brasse Vannie Kaap, ‘Nou wat gaan jy maak?’” It was an Afrikaans song and they were rapping it! I had never heard that before. They were talking a whole lot of nonsense, but I felt so connected to it. They were playing music that I could listen to. I needed to learn more about this Hip-Hop and it kept me away from the streets and gang activity.

I failed Matric. I was in a gang fight in Bonteheuwel High.

Guys beat me up and one guy wanted to stab me, so I took the knife from him and I stabbed him with the knife. I was not a gangster, but I will not be a pushover. There were many gangs that wanted to convert me into a gangster, and I would sit and look at them like, “yoh, you’re really convincing yourself here that you can convince me to become one of you.” If they wanted to give me a ‘slow-boat’, I’m like “bra, I will never do that” and then they will say to me, “never say never.” I said, “no, it’s not just about saying words. It’s about my life and I’m not going to do it.”

After the stabbing – because of the Safe Schools programme – I couldn’t go back to school again because the brothers of these guys, who were more established and dangerous gangsters, came to look for me at school. So I was placed in a safe house in Thornton and I had to finish school at a nearby school in Cravenby.

The stabbing and moving schools was not really the reason that I failed. I failed because I was bored and unmotivated as there were no art and craft subjects, which I love.

At the Cravenby school you could do accounting, geography – the really boring, theoretical subjects and I was more of an art-driven, craft person. I wanted to do music, photography and things that I’ve seen at other schools. When I was doing my music and rapping and graffiti, my teachers would say, “wat doen jy!?” [what are you doing!?]. In that sense teachers also did not do the students justice. If you want me to be fluent in English or read Afrikaans, or whatever, give me a book that I’ll find interesting. Make education interesting!

In the end I went back and rewrote Matric and eventually got it. For more than eight months I was unemployed, actually everyone in my family was unemployed then, but we managed to survive. Then I got a casual job at Mr Price and I got paid about R1 200 a month – that was a lot for me! I mean, I’ve never seen that amount of money in my hands, but obviously it went straight to the household, with a little for myself for my taxi fare and stuff like that.

When my contract ended at Mr Price I thought to myself, what am I going to do now? Then I got a job at a factory in Ndabeni. There I worked in a department with a guy who played a big role in my life. I always had the sense that people don’t want to share skills, but this guy was open. “Dean, if you have something difficult please don’t be shy or don’t be afraid to ask me. Just ask me. If you need to ask me ten times do it.” My learning ability within that environment escalated. It grew quickly but I knew I didn’t want to work there for long. I needed to save up so that I could go and study.

That was in 2003, my first year in a job and I put money away.

There’s a particular culture within previously disadvantaged communities – we don’t spend our money well and we focus on unnecessary things that don’t contribute towards us in the long term. I know so many people who have gotten jobs within my community – the first thing that they bought was a car and the only time that they could drive it was at the end of the month – and that was only for a week or even that weekend because they couldn’t afford the petrol the rest of the month. Mostly they were just drinking in the car. The first thing that I bought myself – and my most valuable thing because it helped me to study further and took me to Britain and to France – was a pair of turntables. Through DJing I’ve been in an Artscape play and from there it has escalated. It has really added value to my life – it’s not an accessory to brag about.



How did I get into DJing? A popular guy that was part one of the biggest Hip-Hop crews and one of the originators of South African Hip-Hop, Mr Fat from BVK and POC, lived in Bonteheuwel. My Hip-Hop came through that, you know, through Fat being here. It really gave me the sense that this is something that you can make a career of –this guy is doing it! And that is how I started off, organising small park jams and Hip-Hop parties. Eventually I got into an Artscape production, which exposed me to many people and provided me the opportunity to travel to London and France with the production. Also, as a result of hooking up with different people, my interest in filming, sound engineering and community development grew.

After I bought the turntable, I told myself I now needed to have a formal education as well.

I did a bit of A+ certification training to become a computer technician, fixing computers, troubleshooting and that kind of stuff, but I could not afford it after a while and opted out. Then I studied graphic design. I didn’t do well in that to be honest, but it was not about doing graphic design really. It was about being in an environment of studying, of like-minded people, and about moving away from the Bonteheuwel space or culture for that matter.

In 2006 the South African movie Tsotsi won an Oscar. The whole country was talking about this movie and saying that the film industry was going to boom. So the government SETAs were investing money in black students to study film. My girlfriend at the time, Zaidah Jardien, helped me a lot. I will forever be grateful to her. She inspired me, she left school in Grade 9, but is so intellectual, conscious and wise. Oh, my word – story writing, no problem; reading new words; knowing about places… She was a bookworm.

She made me see that education is not only about going to college or university.

She’s still in Bonteheuwel. We are best friends now. I wasn’t speaking fluent English and she helped me. She was the one who wrote my bursary application letters, because I couldn’t write properly and structure my sentences. I am in the position Im in today because of people like her.

After a year-long struggle to get information, in 2007 I was able to study at City Varsity with a SETA bursary. It is sad that we, as young people, don’t achieve things because something as simple as information is not easily available.

During my two years at City Varsity there was no income at home. My mother and father didn’t work, so I sold switch-on battery lights and Christmas lights to earn a little bit of cash. I finished my studies and I got an award from M-Net. I was named best cameraman on the movie She Asked For. The movie itself didn’t win first prize, but it won best cinematography.

After that I worked for Cape Town TV (CTV) for a while. I started realising that the film industry is about self-employment.

That is where my father’s entrepreneurial skills came in – how do you create employment for yourself?

I freelanced a little bit here and there. I rented out DVDs to make money and I took the movies I made at City Varsity to schools on a big screen TV and charged people R5 to watch them. That only worked a couple of times. I got a little bit of money from the award that I won, and I bought five computers with that money that I used for community events.

My first big community event was in Eersterivier. We had directing and cinematography workshops and we loaded Adobe Premier onto the computers. I wanted to give people a bit of an understanding of how editing works. I also loaded a whole lot of games on the computers and we had a gaming competition.

It really started to sink in for me that business can meet community development.

Through that community development project I got a job at the District Six Museum and I worked there for a year. There I got access to great information that has helped me a lot.

But I’ve now been formally unemployed since 2012. My mother has not been working for the last ten years and my father has passed on – and I became a father in 2013.

How do you sustain yourself during years without formal employment? You take on a lot of different things to see what works.

In order for economic development to happen, we all need to work together – all black people, including coloured, Xhosa and Indian people. But if we cannot work together or we don’t succeed in our entrepreneurial ventures, we want to make it a race issue, blaming white people. It frustrates me – the power is really in our hands. I have been treated poorly and unfairly in employment situations by people of colour and I have had to make it work for myself despite this.

For example, I got old broken computers at a centre that I worked at and I was able to fix a few of them. I now have ten computers. I built up networks though which I received 500 brand new, untouched books. I’ve got an espresso machine. These are all part of my plans for the business hub café that I want to establish. I got pallets and I’ve made stages, which I’m renting out now for events. People have asked, what is this guy collecting? Well, I’m making money out of it… I hustle.

As black people, we undercut each other.

I did a job last Saturday, a R5 000 job for people. Guess how much they wanted to give me? Less than R1 000. Do you know how that makes me feel? We don’t see our own value. When we have an opportunity to work together, we don’t. That makes me really angry because my success is dependent on your success as well. If we cannot work together, if we don’t take ourselves seriously, nothing will go forward. It creates an impression that white people have the economy, but it’s not so. We have the economy. All of us have the economy. It’s just that they have an understanding of working and don’t under-value each other. There’s no reason why the only businesses that are really thriving in our community should be the drug houses and shebeens.

The difficult thing for me currently is finding a space for setting up my business hub café. I’ve approached a guy near the garage where you enter Bonteheuwel – they have just renovated the space very beautifully, but they said no. Some people keep on telling me, “we really need to start a business venture together,” but when the push comes they have excuses. I said: “You have that mentality where you study to get employment – instead of study to create employment.” That is what we really need now. That is where I find myself now, but I am a bit stuck, I cannot move forward.

Some of the most difficult things in my life have been…

Not having equal opportunities to those of other people. Especially when you’re coloured. The narrative of being black nowadays is being seen as Xhosa and Zulu – and that’s a concern for me. In the past, many people from my background have been ignored in certain spaces. When you go to certain departments they don’t see you because they see a coloured person as more privileged. But the reality is that this is not the case. If opportunities are being provided for workshops, for example, they don’t happen in coloured communities. We are being overlooked. It demoralises you. I’ve under-valued myself because of that, but I think it has also made me push harder.

Not going to a proper school – it was not a proper school I went to. A building doesn’t make a proper school. It’s the behaviour and the culture within that school that makes a proper school. Also, my family dynamics – if my family, my mother and father, had been in a better position, I think I would have been in a better position now. At the moment, I am still staying with my mother. My mother is not working. I am the breadwinner of the household. I need to support my son, my brother, my mother and myself.



Also if I had had information. Actually I think this is the most important thing. If ten years back I had the information that I have now, guaranteed I would have been in a much better position today.

The reason why our community is the way it is, is because we are not exposed. We are stuck with old information. I’m not talking about text-based, theoretical information. I’m talking about the emotional stuff – emotional intelligence: how do I treat you? Do I respect you? How’s my humanity? Do I care about what is happening with my race and about the current situation within our society? Family dynamics: am I a good person to myself and others? It is this information that teaches me how to be a better person and to make the right decisions. I think if I’d had such information at an earlier stage, I would have been further along in terms of sustaining myself.

I struggle to break free from the Bonteheuwel culture.

Many people from here don’t value or understand the things that I value, but then when it comes to people who are at the same level intellectually and in terms of values as me, they then don’t really understand my circumstances, so I’m stuck in the middle. The media also portrays a negative image about some groups of people and particular communities. When I say I’m a coloured from Bonteheuwel, the first thing that people say is front teeth out, gangster – and that automatically translates into no job opportunities.

When I don’t go out today to work, people perceive me as being lazy. “Jirre, die groot man – this big, grown man still staying with his mother”. People perceive you as that, not really knowing what you’ve put in. How people perceive you can come to define you. This is where I struggle. To be honest, without me being even fully conscious of it, I’ve noticed that I’ve become a little bit more aggressive. Sometimes I say something to somebody and then when I go into my own space and I reflect, I realise I did something wrong.

But I keep on doing what I am doing for the sake of seeing my full potential and finding what I’m able to do. That’s the number one thing. The selfishness of people is, oh my word, its enormous and it’s part of the culture. You can go to someone and say, “I would really like you to teach me X, Y, and Z.” That person will say to you, “I cannot. I don’t want to.” It is somehow very hard for that person to say, “yes, I will.” I’m teaching other people. If you don’t have money, it’s okay. That’s the reason why I went to Lesotho this year – to share my skills (I went with an HIV prevention NGO). The possibility of being an active citizen is key for me.

I heard somebody say, as an entrepreneur, you are very lonely, and that’s true.

But when I call out for help, I don’t call out for handouts. I call out to say, “you know what, I need your help, but I have 70% of what I need already.” I just need that 30%. At the moment, where my business hub venture is concerned, I just need space. It’s also for other young entrepreneurs, such as myself, to say, how can we collaborate? I want to build a brand around DJing, so I’m working on something that complements DJing, filming, community development and entrepreneurship. But it needs to create an income at least.

“How do I want to be remembered?” I want to be remembered as a father to my son.

All things have failed for me in terms of my son. He is separated from me. But the thing that keeps me going is my love for him. There is a saying that goes, “When all things fail, love fights back.” That’s really what keeps me going as a father and an individual.


1 Referring to human/moralistic values such as kindness, caring, respect etc.