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The Number: One Man's Search for Identity in the Cape Underworld and Prison Gangs

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30 review for The Number: One Man's Search for Identity in the Cape Underworld and Prison Gangs

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dillon

    The Number tells the story of both Magadien Wentzel, a lifelong criminal and prison gang leader of the 28s and the history of the South African prison gangs. Wentzel grew up as an identity-less colored boy in the cape townships. He didn’t know who his mother was until he was nearly a teen, never knew who his father was and despised his foster mother’s boyfriends. He doesn’t know his true name, age or religion. Lacking structure and guidance (granted this is an overgeneralization), he turned to cr The Number tells the story of both Magadien Wentzel, a lifelong criminal and prison gang leader of the 28s and the history of the South African prison gangs. Wentzel grew up as an identity-less colored boy in the cape townships. He didn’t know who his mother was until he was nearly a teen, never knew who his father was and despised his foster mother’s boyfriends. He doesn’t know his true name, age or religion. Lacking structure and guidance (granted this is an overgeneralization), he turned to crime. When he is in prison he finally finds something that gives his life structure and meaning: The Number. The book gives a great description of the numbers gangs, the 26s, 27s and 28s. It explains their history and the relationships between the three gangs as well as their relationships with the warders of the prisons throughout South Africa. Also, it gives a great description of Wentzel’s role in the 28s. Long story short, Wentzel eventually grows disenchanted in the gang lifestyle and the vicious cycle of perpetration of a crime incarceration, release and recidivism. The Number is a great look into what it is like to live as a criminal and prisoner in the Cape, and the challenges that a prison gang member would face when attempting to get his life, not back together, but together for the first time. Further, it is also a great piece for anyone who is interested in authorship or journalism. Throughout the book, Steinberg and Wentzel have an uneven relationship. One is an affluent Rhodes Scholar, the other an old penniless ndota. One gets to come in go from the others life, the other must sit and wait for their meetings. One tells the story, the other has the potential to mold the story. It is a very interesting relationship that many authors must face when writing a books about the fringes of society. Steinberg does it with amazing finesse and does a great job conveying the challenges to the reader

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    ...he was coming to learn that one cannot reinvent oneself without reinventing the people around whom one has lived a life. At first I was disappointed with this book, as I thought it would include much more information about live in the gangs outside of prison, but now I understand that live in a prison gang and live in one of the big Cape Town gangs are two very different things. This is my second book by Jonny Steinberg in 2016, and the reason for that is that he not only writes about the live ...he was coming to learn that one cannot reinvent oneself without reinventing the people around whom one has lived a life. At first I was disappointed with this book, as I thought it would include much more information about live in the gangs outside of prison, but now I understand that live in a prison gang and live in one of the big Cape Town gangs are two very different things. This is my second book by Jonny Steinberg in 2016, and the reason for that is that he not only writes about the live of his subject, but also about the process of interviewing them, and how that process influences their live and their views. Once again he did a brilliant job in really getting us to understand why Magadien, a very intelligent person, would end up in prison time and again. By giving us this understanding, and interviewing many other people, we can extent this empathy to a community as a whole. On top of that he explains why the South African prison gangs developed and how they have changed since democracy. I must admit that although the history of prison gangs itself was interesting, it was Magadien's story and Jonny's insight and interaction with this story, that kept me hooked. It loses a star because the first few chapters reads like an academic title, and I almost gave up on it. The Story: Jonny Steinberg's latest book pitches the reader into the murky world of SA's prison gangs by focusing on the life of one man.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    A must read for every resident of the Western Cape in South Africa, and for anyone who wants to understand the legacy of apartheid on the coloured population of the country. This is biography, history and current affairs rolled into one, written with a journalist's eye for a good story. A must read for every resident of the Western Cape in South Africa, and for anyone who wants to understand the legacy of apartheid on the coloured population of the country. This is biography, history and current affairs rolled into one, written with a journalist's eye for a good story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    andrea freud

    learned so much and remember it two years later. Ethnography that reads like a great novel.. once I found Johnny Steinberg, radical white South African sociologist, read all I could get.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kanykei Tursunbaeva

    Tough.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ms Desiree Silverstone

    This book gives an in-depth understanding of the origins and psyche of black gangs and their brutality.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aimee Mcdonald

    The number tells the story of reformed gangster, Magadien Wentzel, who was high up in the 28’s, one of South Africa’s most notorious prison gangs. Steinberg spent 18 months with Wentzel, in and out of prison, and skillfully crafts the story of his shattered life into a whole narrative. The story is fascinating as it gives insight into one of South Africa’s most militant and powerful bodies: the organised crime mafiosos of the Cape Flats. The prison gangs have a rich (albeit imaginary) history and The number tells the story of reformed gangster, Magadien Wentzel, who was high up in the 28’s, one of South Africa’s most notorious prison gangs. Steinberg spent 18 months with Wentzel, in and out of prison, and skillfully crafts the story of his shattered life into a whole narrative. The story is fascinating as it gives insight into one of South Africa’s most militant and powerful bodies: the organised crime mafiosos of the Cape Flats. The prison gangs have a rich (albeit imaginary) history and system. The author also explores the role that apartheid played in fostering gangs and destroying the identity of coloured people as a nation. Steinberg writes the story in an excellent way- it is circular- bringing up facts and people and incidents in Wentzels life that crop up later in the book, but Steinberg also deals with his own guilt of writing and making money off a poor-man’s story. The tropes of identity and redemption give this book a quality which sets it apart from ordinary non-fiction. It ends hanging, and now when I step on the train and see a face of strangers, I wonder if one of them is Magadien, rebuilding his life out of the rubble of poor decisions and historical injustices.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carina

    Pros: The book is well-researched and referenced and the main protagonist, Magadien, is likeable. I also liked that it was a story of hope. As someone living in Cape Town, I appreciate that it also provided a lot of insight into the history and politics of the province and country. Cons: I'm not a big fan of the way the story of Magadien was woven together in seemingly structured but non-chronological ways. I believe quite a bit of it could have been edited as there was much repetition of facts a Pros: The book is well-researched and referenced and the main protagonist, Magadien, is likeable. I also liked that it was a story of hope. As someone living in Cape Town, I appreciate that it also provided a lot of insight into the history and politics of the province and country. Cons: I'm not a big fan of the way the story of Magadien was woven together in seemingly structured but non-chronological ways. I believe quite a bit of it could have been edited as there was much repetition of facts and events as the story looped back a few times. The journalist/biographer Steinberg was candid about his role in the inmate's life (i.e. not entirely objective) which I appreciated. Some of the commentary and insight did not come across as entirely unbiased.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Minette Visser

    The story of Magadien Wentzel/William Steenkamp/JR/Darryl illuminates the problem with criminalising bad behaviour. Magadien is in prison, again, and his rank in the Number is the only place in the world where he belongs. But belonging to the Number means belonging in prison. This book has confirmed a suspicion I've had about the criminal system, and shows that we really need to rehabilitate people and not treat them like outcasts once they're out of prison. Beautifully told, this book illustrates The story of Magadien Wentzel/William Steenkamp/JR/Darryl illuminates the problem with criminalising bad behaviour. Magadien is in prison, again, and his rank in the Number is the only place in the world where he belongs. But belonging to the Number means belonging in prison. This book has confirmed a suspicion I've had about the criminal system, and shows that we really need to rehabilitate people and not treat them like outcasts once they're out of prison. Beautifully told, this book illustrates a nation-wide problem by focusing on an individual's story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Goretti

    always informative. Steinberg's investigative journalism takes on a personal tone as he follows one individual's search for his biological identity as well as an identity which links to the intricately complex number system in our prison system. This number system has spilled over to outside prison wall gangsterism in a South African context which makes it an interesting and informative for any local South African. always informative. Steinberg's investigative journalism takes on a personal tone as he follows one individual's search for his biological identity as well as an identity which links to the intricately complex number system in our prison system. This number system has spilled over to outside prison wall gangsterism in a South African context which makes it an interesting and informative for any local South African.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lenine

    Hectic! Jonny Steinberg's journalistic style makes this book. I learned so much about a world we'd rather ignore. He He...i even gave it to a local car guard (yes) to read - he called it a trip down memory lane. The truth of it makes it all the more unnerving - and fascinating. Hectic! Jonny Steinberg's journalistic style makes this book. I learned so much about a world we'd rather ignore. He He...i even gave it to a local car guard (yes) to read - he called it a trip down memory lane. The truth of it makes it all the more unnerving - and fascinating.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David Smith

    This book is in inspiration and an eye-opener. If ever proof was needed that rehabilitation, reconciliation, communication and compromise are necessary for peace and stability, The Number dishes it out in quantity. My battery has been recharged.

  13. 5 out of 5

    William Brown

    A very interesting history on the complexities and context of South Africa's most notorious prison gang - The Number. Follows one of the Generals of the 28's Gang as he searches for redemption in post-apartheid South Africa. A very interesting history on the complexities and context of South Africa's most notorious prison gang - The Number. Follows one of the Generals of the 28's Gang as he searches for redemption in post-apartheid South Africa.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    I am obsessed with gangs and prisons so this book was of great interest for me. Although at times it's a bit slow and too long in parts, I enjoyed the read. I am obsessed with gangs and prisons so this book was of great interest for me. Although at times it's a bit slow and too long in parts, I enjoyed the read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ruthie

    Jonny did so much research to bring this book to life. The details amazed me and gave me a true understanding of the world of prison gangs in South Africa.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This is a very comprehensive and compelling insight into the coloured prison gangs of the Cape, told through the life story of a former member of one of these 'Numbers'. This is a very comprehensive and compelling insight into the coloured prison gangs of the Cape, told through the life story of a former member of one of these 'Numbers'.

  17. 4 out of 5

    La'eeqah

    Struggled. Possible flawed depiction.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Wow, very good and deeply thought provoking.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Monica

  20. 5 out of 5

    Beth Oppenheim

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

  22. 5 out of 5

    Esna Swart

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hetta

  25. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tarryn

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mogamat

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nellie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

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