“Drag is the art of transformation, it is an expression of oneself through performance”. Chante Harries, an experienced drag queen from Parkwood (Cape Town), is the showpiece of “drag with a purpose, celebrate diversity”, an initiative launched with an aim to rehabilitate young women involved in drug abuse and gangsterism in the Cape Flats, Cape Town. In the area created by the infamous ‘Group Areas Act’, she took under her wings, in the glittering Parkwood hair salon, 15 young women to whom she teaches hairdo tricks and a few life lessons.
“I have been seeing a lot of difficulties with drug abuse, crime abuse [and] gangsterism in my community and because I also come from a drug-infested house I would like to teach the girls hairdressing, beauty and self-love lessons, help them understand that when you are a woman you need to be independent and confident,” says Chante. The girls will complete a six-month apprenticeship program. Currently, they are three months into the program. The participants join the programme voluntarily with some of the young women taken directly from the streets. The girls have never worked before. Because of the poor level of education received by the children living in the Flats, the skill level attained will not be enough to either study further or qualify for a job. Half of the student population drop out before matric. To the last count, there were 350 000 youths under the age of 25 in the city who were not educated, employed or trained. (According to a Paper UCT from April 2019). Chante and her team face a daunting challenge: as more women are willing to go through the rehabilitation programme, allowing them to eventually return home to their families, some of them fall through. The brutal reality outside the “Heavens Saloon” is proven to be too dire for most of them. “I left home when I was about fifteen years old, I was addicted to madras. The streets are rough […] you can’t leave, I was raped and then got pregnant by another man, but I kept it: Aunty Chante asked me to come to the shelter and I am now better and learning a lot”. Samantha is now nineteen years old. The participants collect clothes and food items from well-wishers, then hand them over to people in need in Phillipe Farms. Caring for others, as a form of ‘self help’, is an integral part of the rehabilitation process.