The Number (book)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Number : One Man's Search for Identity in the Cape Underworld and Prison Gangs is a non fiction book written by Jonny Steinberg about South Africa's criminal tradition of prison gangs.

It won South Africa's premier nonfiction literary award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award.[1]

The author researched prison gangs based in Pollsmoor prison resulting in the books The Number and the later Nongoloza's Children.[2]


Steinberg has written about South Africa's criminal justice system for the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg, South Africa. He received a doctorate in political theory while studying at Oxford University.[3]

The Number is based on 50 hours of interviews with the 43 year old member of the 28's gang Magadien Wentzel, one of the inhabitants of Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. It details his life story, from growing up in the ghettos of Cape Town, through incarceration and his struggles to re-adapt to life outside prison.[4][5][6]

In a review for Kronos, Andrew M. Jefferson stated that the book can be read two ways; as "a succinct commentary on the racially and socially warped world of Cape Town. As such, it is a book about marginalization and coping in Cape Town where violence, stigmatization and incarceration are everyday realities for coloured men. And it can be read as a prison ethnography of which there are precious few in a non-western context."[7]

A Symposium took place at the MacMillan Center at Yale University in 2018 to discuss the book.[8]


  1. ^ "Previous winners of the Alan Paton Award and the Sunday Times Fiction Prize". The Times. 4 June 2007. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  2. ^ "Prison violence and gangs". Centre of the Study of Violence an Reconciliation. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  3. ^ "Open Society Fellowship Program- Jonny Steinberg". Open Society Foundations. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  4. ^ Steinberg, Jonny: The Number (Jonathan Ball, Cape Town 2004); ISBN 1-868422-05-4
  5. ^ Ndlovu, Isaac (1 June 2010). "Coded narratives of nongoloza, doggy dog: Narrating the self and nation in Jonny Steinberg's the number". Current Writing: Text and Reception in Southern Africa. 22 (2): 119–130. doi:10.1080/1013929X.2010.9678351. ISSN 1013-929X.
  6. ^ Roux, Daniel (1 September 2009). "Jonny Steinberg's The Number and prison life writing in post‐apartheid South Africa". Social Dynamics. 35 (2): 231–243. doi:10.1080/02533950903076154. ISSN 0253-3952.
  7. ^ Jefferson, Andrew M..; Jensen, Steffen (November 2005). "Review of The Number: One Man's Search for Identity in the Cape Underworld and Prison Gangs". Kronos (31): 275–279. ISSN 0259-0190. JSTOR 41056550.
  8. ^ Ding, Julia (4 December 2018). "Jonny Steinberg's "The Number: One Man's Search for Identity in the Cape Underworld and Prison Gangs"". The MacMillan Center. Retrieved 26 October 2019.

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Scharf, Wilfried (January 2005). "The Number - One Man's Search for Identity in the Cape Underworld and Prison Gangs by Jonny Steinberg : book review". South African Journal of Criminal Justice. 18 (3): 329–334. ISSN 1011-8527.