Home PodcastNafeesa Dangor From gangsters to activists: How a father and son are working to keep children in school

From gangsters to activists: How a father and son are working to keep children in school

by Umamah Bakharia

Ralph and Sebastian Haricombe, both former gangsters, are now working to keep kids in schools [Picture: Mail & Guardian]


CAPE TOWN – Former gang members Ralph Haricombe (64) and Sebastian Haricombe (31) have turned their lives around. They left the streets and started ‘Project Hope’ – a project which supplies school shoes for learners in need.

The father and son duo spoke to Salaamedia’s Nafeesa Dangor on Inspirational Mornings about their journey from being drug addicts on the streets to activists raising money to help keep kids in school through ‘Project Hope’.

Sebastian and Ralph both grew up without father figures to set an example. At the age of 6, Ralph went to prison; leaving his son in the care of his wife.

“I did not have guidance growing up and my mother did what she could to provide for us but a father is an important figure to lead the way in creating their children to be firm against challenges,” says Sebastian.

After Ralph was expelled from school, in Standard 3 (Grade 5), the youngster joined the ‘Glamour Boys’ gang. He felt that he would have more power to do what he wanted if he had a group.

Because Sebastian looked up to his dad as a role model at the time, he also wanted to go to prison and started following the path that lead his father’s imprisonment. At the age of 7, in Manenburg, Sebastian started gambling and speaking in a gangster tone.


The young Sebastian even formed his own gang in school. Subsequently, he was expelled and on the streets because he failed to improve in the social work counseling provided to him by the school.

When Ralph was released in 2003, he tried to get the house in order. However, he resorted to violence when his children, who were much older by then, resisted. Because of the violence, Sebastian and Ralph were kicked out of there and began smoking mandrax together.


Sebastian and Ralph both had a turning point when they found God. Project Hope started in 2012, when he visited a school in Q-town, Cape Town, to give a talk on how he turned his life around.

“There were kids present that had a similar history of drugs like me, when I was a teen, and I thought ‘If this is the situation in Q-town, the society in Manenburg is worse’. So, I went to the schools in Manenburg to talk about gangsterism and drugs and I realized that there are so many children who come to school with broken shoes. I approached the principal on how I can help the children in winter with school shoes,” says Sebastian.

Sebastian went out to beg for money at train stations and parking lots to buy some school shoes for the children. 


“I cannot explain the feeling but I am just glad to see that me and my son who were smoking drugs together are now working together [for] the children in the community who are in need of school shoes,” said Ralph.


Listen to the full discussion here:

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