Criminals in the volatile Westbury Township of Johannesburg have opened up to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), admitting that they feel responsible for the escalation in drug abuse over the decades.

SABC News senior reporter Chriselda Lewis and cameraman Gqabi Njokweni spoke to a convicted drug dealer in the area, and a reformed gang leader who now wants to save his community.

The former co-founding father of the infamous Westbury Spaldings gang is now trying to save lives, reaching out to young drug abusers. ‘I mean it was us who put drugs on the streets, somehow you have to feel guilty,’ said the convicted drug dealer.

This is a blunt confession from a man who has already served nine years in jail for possession of drugs. He has intimate knowledge of the years’ long drug turf wars that have plagued Westbury, while he was dealing and admits, that he, among others, are responsible for planting the seeds of drug use.

“You’ve got your corner, don’t interfere, I’ve got mine, don’t interfere, I stick to my end and I don’t interfere. What starts the war is when you interfere with someone else’s territory,” says convicted drug dealer.

He won’t admit to dealing in drugs now but confesses to buying and selling stolen goods.  Lewis confronted him on the turf war killings during the time that he says he was active.

For the last two years, 143 innocent people died in the turf war. “Yes, but they were not being killed like this.  4 or 5 in a day,” he responded.

However, some have turned the page.  The former Spaldings gang boss is part of this centre that now assists primary and high school learners in the area with behavioural problems relating to drugs.

The centre takes in as many as between 40-60 young drug abusers in a week, some as young as 8-years-old. “The disturbing thing is that they are getting younger and younger… in primary school grade 4, 5, 6,” says Together Action Group Chairperson Vernon Fritz.

Clearly, this is a battle that will not be won overnight.