‘Gang pastor’ to fatherless youth

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“Justice has always been my heartbeat,” says Andie Steele-Smith from Doolhof Wine Estate.

Andie has been a part of the community for the past seven years and is respected among communities that he has served. He could be described as a wild-card philanthropist and is also known as the “gang pastor”.

Originally from Australia, Andie, along with his wife and four children, knew they were called out to South Africa to do the work of God.

This is not strictly in a theological sense. His expertise and fortune lies in the world of investment banking as he told Paarl Post. “We knew that we were meant to be doing something related to justice, education, entrepreneurship and building a safe church community.”

When asked what effect does absent fatherhood have on socio-economic epidemics faced in informal communities in the Western Cape, Andie says that the absentee father role contributes to nearly 100% of underworld dwellers.

Underworld dwellers are ex- or current convicts, gangsters or drug dealers and addicts.

“I could introduce you to a 100 000 people who grew up without fathers which, to me, is the cause of most of these statistics.”

He has experience with gangsters and is seen as a diplomat of sorts in their midst. “Being an investment banker meant that, part of the affirmative influence I summoned among gangs, is because I’m a hustler who simply wears an expensive suit.”

In his career he has “backed” many companies in Australia, United States and the United Kingdom, where he had lived prior to moving to the Cape.

“I remember God telling me to wait for at least a year to look, listen and learn about the landscape that we would face here. And not come as yet another European guy who goes: ‘Yeah, I can fix your problems’.”

In the first year, he helped ministries in an oversight role. “After just one year, we started volunteering at a township called Fisantekraal in Durbanville. Eventually the leadership of the church said that they needed a volunteer to run the church’s Bible study.

Surprisingly, the role had never been filled before Andie, out of fear or unforeseen circumstances.

He had spent some time with gangs in the States before encountering it in SA. “It made me think, if I were to start a men’s Bible study group, I’d host a braai where we could break bread, share food, chill and chat as Jesus is known to have done.” He made local history by putting a half drum-braai on a street corner in Fisantekraal with an open invitation to men and boys seeking brotherhood (sisters were also welcomed).

“The first night we had eight guys, followed by 20 the next, which continued to grow to 100-150 guys by week six, ranging from 15- to 25-year-olds. We had consistent numbers during 2016-’19, but we stopped the study in 2020 due to Covid.”

During his Bible study sessions he posed the question: “What change would you like to bring in your community?” Andie received this answer: “We want to do a lot of things uncle, but we’re only kids, nobody told us that we can.”

He then said: “Maybe you should ask forgiveness instead of permission and just get things done.”

Ideas started flowing and “Uncle Andie” was asked to help out and assist with funeral plans for infant deaths or “gogo’s house burnt down, can we go and help rebuild?”

Andie and his kids would approach communities unfamiliar to them by following the smoke and offering assistance at burning homes. “Contrary to conventional firefighting methods, my best tools are 5-10 kg sledgehammers. Breaking down homesteads in front of shocked community members as a crazy white guy is risky in itself, but it’s simpler to knock down unaffected shacks that could simply be rebuilt. This way it’s easier to isolate the fire.”

His creed among troubled youth aims particularly at focusing their attention to doing good.

“The youth are far more encouraged when you aim their focus on becoming local heroes, instead of on ‘not becoming thugs’.”

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