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Gangstar Café, South Africa

Creating a Generation of Urban Hero’s from Ex-offenders

The Background:

In February 2014, The Message Trust was set up to raise up generations of Urban Hero’s. The Trusts vision is to enable South African young people to fulfil their God-given potential and they do this by providing holistic interventions to the barriers that young people face.

Their vehicle for doing this is via a social enterprise initiative that creates employment and training opportunities for young men coming out of prison and gangs - Gangstar Café. The first café launched in April 2017 in Mowbray, with a second opening in 2019 in Durbanville Town Centre. In March 2021 they plan to launch their Barista Training Academy in partnership with Red Band Barista Academy.

It was found that those who came out of prison became despondent and would go back to crime and prison because they didn’t have a way to generate income or have a sense of purpose. Additionally, businesses were reluctant to risk taking on one of the prison leavers when they could employ someone who has just come out of university. For these young men, to find true purpose and meaning their unemployment issues needed addressing and this was how Gangstar Café was born.

The Aim:

Gangstar Café was launched as a social enterprise initiative to create employment and training opportunities for young men coming out of prison and gangs. The cafes aim to offer stability, increased self-worth and meaningful employment. Their primary aim is to break the cycle of gangsterism, reoffending and crime in their society. Additionally, they strive to provide high quality food and drink to their customers.

Our Work:

With Gangstar Cafés based in Mowbray and Durbanville, they are at the forefront of social enterprise in South Africa. In Mowbray they have daily mobile deliveries that transport food and beverages to their customers, including a catering service for social events such as weddings. They also have mobile coffee carts that visit business parks, large stores and corporate offices. As a way to tell their story and promote the brand they sell merchandise. All of their profits are used to provide employment and support to ex – offenders and youths who want to leave gangsterism and crime.

Gangstar Café engaged our partner, Relativ to consult on impact measurement and to track the transformation of ex-offenders through the wheel of life (WOL). The WOL tracks each individual in ten key areas of life development and is monitored throughout the development process. This valuable approach has enabled the ex-offender to assess their own weaknesses in specific areas of their life, set clear goals for improvement and be coached on improving them. A beneficiary resource system on salesforce tracking the current whereabouts and status of ex-offenders who have graduated from the program has also been created.

In 2021 they will be launching a new reintegration process which will provide job readiness and barista training throughout the year for young men on parole. In total they aim to train 24 ex-offenders in barista training and 60 in job readiness. They are currently building relationships within the coffee industry so they can place barista graduates into employment. Furthermore, they will be providing one month on the job training in Gangstar Cafes and partner coffee shops.

Measuring Success:

Since 2017, Gangstar Café has shown that it has a sustainable business model that is financially sustainable and able to provide meaningful employment to ex-offenders. There has been a high success rate in coaching and training ex-offenders to work effectively and excel in employment and not return to crime and gangsterism.

To date Gangstar Cafe have helped assist over 25 ex-offenders into employment. They employ 5 ex-offenders directly in their Cafes and over 73% of their reintegration graduates successfully found employment.

Through the years they have tweaked and strengthened their approach to provide a clear structure and process for young ex-offenders to have a successful reintegration back into society. This includes a clear path into employment but also providing regular and consistent support to each ex-offender holistically.

Through working intensively in prisons with parolees and having seen the progress of the social enterprise over the past 3 years, the café are in a position that can make a substantial impact on the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalised in Cape Town.


One of the cafes employees, Clint, explained that in his youth he got in with ‘the wrong crowd’, that led him to drinking and smoking. He was in and out of prison, after being enlightened/influenced spiritually by his experience with Gangstar Café his ‘life began to change’.


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