From gangster to barista

Barista Xola Dingiswayo.

A reformed gangster has turned his life around to become the head barista at a café in Mowbray.

Xola Dingiswayo, 28, is now an inspiration to others after he overcame poverty, drug addiction and a life of crime to make something of himself.

Mr Dingiswayo grew up in Samora Machel, Philippi, with his mother and four sisters.

At the age of 17 he got involved with the wrong crowd and joined a gang.

He started drinking and first started smoking cigarettes, then went over to dagga, buttons and crystal methamphetamine, known as tik.

He first got arrested in 2008 for possession of firearms.

After the case got thrown out of court, he continued to engage in illegal activities. In 2012 he again got arrested and was sentenced to four years in prison for possession of firearms.

His first six months in prison were difficult as he suffered drug withdrawal symptoms.

Then things slowly started to change for Mr Dingiswayo as he started attending Christian programmes, which helped to restore his confidence in life. After he was released from prison in December 2014, he continued to follow his Christian faith and got baptised in the Khanyisa Community Church in Gugulethu.

In 2016, Mr Dingiswayo started to work with the Message Trust, an NPO he had encountered in prison. This organisation used to speak to prisoners about job readiness programmes.

Mr Dingiswayo first worked part-time on their ice-cream truck.

He was then offered more full-time work through the Message Trust to work as a salesman at Gangstar Gear, their clothing line, and he also assisted in woodwork.

Thesework opportunities gave Mr Dingiswayo an opportunity to be financially free.

He moved from SamoraMachel to the Beth Uriel House in Salt River to be closer to work.

The Beth Uriel House is an NPO that helps young men from disadvantaged areas with independent living, and they have mentorship programmes for youth to help with school education and integration to society.

Mr Dingiswayo assisted there as a house brother.

He moved to Bridgetown in Athlone earlier this year.

In August 2016, he went for barista training to work in the Mess Café coffee shop, also known as Gangstar Café, in Mowbray.

The café opened in 2017, and he has been head barista since.

The job has given him a lot of self confidence, and he interacts well with his customers who are mostly students.

“We share stories with them on how the work changes our lives, and they get inspired,” said Mr Dingiswayo, who was also hard hit by the death of his sister, Busiswa, in 2016.

Mark Harrison, a manager at Gangstar, is proud of achievements Mr Dingiswayo as well as those of other youth who have overcome challenges to work in their organisation.

“For me, it is an absolute privilege to be in this position.

“One of the things that I look forward to as a manager is that I would be successful if I can unlock their full potential and see them rise up, Gangstar is a platform for them to go further in life,” said Mr Harrison.

Mr Dingiswayo is not the only reformed prisoner to work for Gangstar.

MT Ngexeke was in prison with Mr Dingiswayo, and he now works as a sales manager at Gangstar gear.

“I came to know Xola when we were in prison, he was a chef and I was a spiritual leader and he accepted Christ in his life,” said Mr Ngexeke.

Mr Dingiswayo’s mother, Nonkosiyabo Dingiswayo, said she had almost given up on her son. Now she is thrilled with what he has achieved.

“I can’t stop praising God about what he has done in my son’s life and also for hearing my prayers,” said Ms Dingiswayo.