that succeeded to the top echelons of gangsterdom and held executive seats, for instance:
The Firm: Kati-Ann Arendse
Americans boss Adielah Davids
These two women died violently.
Kati was shot dead in her driveway. Adielah and her daughter were shot dead in their hairdresser salon.
A brotherhood sealed in blood
Marianne Merten, The Mail & Guardian
The Americans have an uneasy, tense ceasefire with the Taliban — not in Afghanistan, but the gang-infested Cape Flats. And the Boston Kids finally made peace with the Mongrels after the death of an eight-year-old boy hit the headlines.
Six months earlier Clara Smith (62) was killed by a stray bullet in her lounge in Skyline Court in Ottery as gangsters shot at each other outside. It didn’t make the headlines.
Behind these deaths is an intricate web of gang activities spread across the two neighbouring Cape Flats communities, revolving around control of the lucrative local drug and shebeen trade.
This conflict seldom, if ever, reaches Cape Town’s plush suburbs stretched along Table Mountain or the Atlantic seaboard. It plays itself out in the two- or three-storey blocks of flats — named mostly after flowers, trees and women — where washing flutters in the wind from lines strung across concrete walk-throughs and staircases. Or across the sandy, open patches, the little trading spots and at night when young men gather at fires behind graffiti-scarred vibacrete walls. Gangs are part of Cape Flats life.
Gangs have largely replaced council authority and filled the vacuum left by the lack of jobs, social services and recreation facilities. They organise everything from cash for school uniforms, a free taxi ride to hospital, rent money and soccer tournaments.
Being part of a gang brings a sense of belonging, power and material goods, like a pair of Nikes and gold jewellery.
Increasing numbers of children, as young as 11, complete initiation rites that require entry into the kring (circle) to be sealed in blood. Teen-agers become the hitmen because, if caught, they are unlikely to go to jail.
There are more than 100,000 gang members in 137 gangs in the Cape Peninsula. These include older gangs such as the Americans, Hard Livings and Mongrels. American gangsta rap-influenced spin-offs such as the Westsiders, Eastsiders or No Fears are prevalent at schools, where the gang rivalries of fathers, uncles and elder brothers play themselves out.
Between 40% and 60% of all violent crime on the Cape Peninsula is gang-related. Gangs are also responsible for a large proportion of break-ins to houses and cars, the fencing of stolen goods and theft from warehouses.
But there is no policing strategy to deal with gang-related crime: the Western Cape gang investigation unit has been dissolved — gross mismanagement in its ranks was hushed up — and the visible gang unit remains strapped for resources: eight officers work 12-hour shifts and share two vehicles.
Also, there are not enough bullet-proof vests or hand radios to make patrolling the whole peninsula viable. Gang-related murders are not even classified as such in the crime intelligence system. Gang-related crimes are investigated by a plethora of detectives from units such as organised crime, the South African Narcotics Bureau and violent crimes and station detectives.
When gangs are at war local clinics often close: gangsters chase wounded rivals into trauma units to finish them off or harass nurses and doctors to get their friends seen to ahead of other patients.
Schools frequently close because of gang wars or anticipated trouble following a gangster’s funeral. Sometimes schools are specifically targeted because a gang boss’s children attend, such as Dagbreek Primary School in Heideveld last March; sometimes schools are simply caught in the crossfire because of their proximity to a shebeen, like Alpine Primary School in Beacon Valley, Mitchells Plain.
In Hanover Park an average of eight people have died in gang-related violence every month since last December. There are six gangs: the Americans face an almost united front of the Taliban (aka Laughing Boys), Ghetto Kids, School Boys, Fancy Boys and Mongrels.
Community-based organisations, community leaders and a handful of dedicated policemen are in the forefront of ensuring that Cape Flats residents are safe.
Two unusual, unrelated initiatives involving Hanover Park and Manenberg gangs have led to peace this year.
The Cape Town Holocaust Centre hosted warring gangsters for a day-long seminar on hate, symbols of oppression and violence. On Father’s Day Captain Gavin Sheldon accompanied a group of Hanover Park gangsters, community members and conflict mediators to the centre.
“When the gangs spoke afterwards they didn’t speak like gangsters but from their heart,” he said.
He explained his involvement: “At the end of the day we’re saving lives. I grew up in Hanover Park. I’ve got family, friends there. I go to church there. I have feelings for the people in Hanover Park.”
Manenberg station commissioner Senior Superintendent Harri Kishor says the visit to the centre in February was the result of wide-ranging negotiations with the gangs, local community leaders and others.
“I have to take whatever initiative I can to reduce the cycle of violence. At the end of the day I’m the station commissioner. The buck stops with me.”
Kishor knows many of his superiors are opposed to talking to gangsters, but he is adamant that they know that any gangster who breaks the law will be arrested.
Five gangs rule the two square kilometres of Manenberg: the Hard Livings, the Americans, Clever Kids, Jesters and Dixie Boys. The station’s 80 police are responsible for about 200000 people in an area stretching from the gang turf, with an estimated unemployment rate of 80%, to middle-class Surrey Estate with its neat lawns and family sedans, to the Reconstruction and Development Programme settlement of Oliver Tambo Village and Guguletu township.
There is no peace agreement in Manenberg, but the daily shootings have stopped. Gangsters are resolving tensions caused by undisciplined members called “roughnecks” or “roughties” before killings happen.
In another positive spin-off residents have grouped together to clean up their courts and look after each other’s children.
In Tafelsig on the Cape Flats the daily shootings stopped during this month’s ceasefire. Nine people died in gang-related violence in less than three months. Now the first playground has opened, with a little help from the Western Cape urban renewal strategy, which has identified five high-crime areas for upgrades.
Tafelsig is home to about 80 000 people and has an unemployment rate of between 40% and 50%. There are 14 gangs here, including the Americans, Wonder Boys, Junior Mafia, Fancy Boys, Mongrels, Dixie Boys, Cisko Jakkies and Junky Funkies. Most Tafelsig gangsters are aged between 16 and 18: the gunmen are younger.
Norman Jantjes, a former worker for the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, is the urban renewal coordinator and the driving force in bringing community organisations together. He is also a ceasefire negotiator.
Jantjes says it is necessary to talk to gangsters to bring about some normality. “If you don’t work with them you never understand what is making gangsterism more attractive than other organisations of society. If you can cut the supply line to gangs, you can make a difference.”
The construction of four basketball courts is under way. Each four-strong work team will include a gangster: in Baviaanskloof it will be a Hard Livings member, in Piketberg a Wonder Boy and in Leeuwenkop a Dixie Boy.
Other initiatives include a Friday coffee club, a youth club and an arts, sports and life-skills programme for youngsters. Gang graffiti has disappeared. Religious leaders have joined hands and produced an anti-crime awareness pamphlet.
“All these little things contribute to a little change in Tafelsig, which you can pick up a little bit in the mood. It’s slow, it’s very slow. If you really want to make a dent, you will have to create at least 2 000 jobs,” says Jantjes.
On the other side of the Cape Flats is old-time gangster Ernie “Lastig” Solomons, who sees himself putting something back into the community. In the absence of leadership on the Cape Flats, gang bosses step in.
Solomons is a survivor. He ranks among the most senior of “28s” bosses, closely linked to drug car-tel The Firm and the perlemoen and crayfish poaching just outside Hermanus. He was a founder member of Community Outreach (Core), the 1996 initiative by gangsters who claimed they were reformed.
Quietly spoken, Solomons has a to-the-point take on the dynamics of the Cape Flats. “People tell these kids at street corners begging for money voetsek. But it is these kids who will kill their own. When there’s no money at home and I bring money, my mommie will not ask where it comes from. She says ‘Dankie!’”
He wants the government to help solve problems; no one is looking after what he called die bruin mense (brown people). “The people in the informal settlements get water for nothing, electricity for nothing. They are not even from here. We, who suffered through the years, are not being helped.”
Solomons is building a recording studio and is clearing a litter-strewn open patch of grass so that children have a place to play. “I have a goal on this Earth. I may have done many wrong things to many people. I still have the opportunity to put them right. I’m not here to betray, sell out my people.”
Gangs have been around since the early 1800s. According to oral gang lore, the “26″, “27″ and “28″ numbers gangs started with a Pondoland mineworker — Nongolaza, or Jan Note to the colonial authorities — who escaped the mines and took to robbery. Another joined him and each recruited underlings until their paths split. When the leaders were jailed in Durban from 1836, the numbers became entrenched in prisons.
In jails, particularly in the Western Cape, the dominant social system is the numbers gangs, each reflecting a modern state with its own parliament, legal system and army.
Each number gang has its own code of conduct, initiations, symbols like flags and colours and hierarchical structures, with generals giving orders, judges enforcing discipline and soldiers, or madodas, the ordinary members. Stars indicating rank are tattooed on shoulders; the 28s’ sonaf (sun down) symbol and the 26s’ sonop (sun up) are popular tjappies (gang tattoos), as are the numbers themselves.
In recent years Western Cape prison gangs have become increasingly associated with gangs on the outside. Hence, the Americans are 26s like the Sexy Boys or the Mongrels; the 28s are found in The Firm.
Gangsters were part of District Six and coloured communities such as the Bo-Kaap and Simon’s Town. Mostly they fought each other, played numbers, bet and smuggled alcohol. For a long time they remained on the periphery of these close-knit communities that for the most part looked after their children and the needy. Nearby churches, mosques and amenities such as shops, parks and the beach countered many of the gangsters’ negative influences.
But the apartheid-era forced removals ripped apart the social fabric. When people were dumped on the bleak, sandy stretches of the Cape Flats, there was nothing and jobs were no longer a walk or a short bus ride away. Gangsters were quick to take advantage of this vacuum.
Today gangs are tightly organised syndicates in control of anything from drugs and prostitution to perlemoen smuggling, taxi fleets, protection rackets and gun smuggling.
When the Staggie twins, Rashaad and Rashied, were released from jail in the late Eighties, they returned to their Manenberg turf with a mission to consolidate the Hard Livings.
With Rashied, a 26, and Rashaad, a 28, at the helm, the Hard Livings were no longer interested in localised drug dealing and betting, but in control of drug-trafficking networks across the province, taxis, legitimate businesses and protection rackets.
Around the same time several leading 28s bosses like Colin Stanfield, Solomons and Nazir Kapdi formed the drug cartel The Firm to control distribution and pricing of primarily Mandrax and later crack. One of the few women in the gang underworld, Kati-Ann Arendse, joined their ranks later.
By 1993 violent gang wars raged over the drugs trade. But ahead of the 1994 democratic election peace agreements were signed — politicians needed access to Cape Flats voters.
A split emerged in the gang underworld: gangs such as the Hard Livings supported the African National Congress and hoped for spin-offs in the new dispensation; others, such as Americans leader Jackie Lonte, aka Neville Heroldt, backed the apartheid government and its security forces and favoured the National Party.
The truth commission heard of the involvement of Lonte and some of his gangsters in apartheid assassination attempts.
By 1995 the peace was still holding. The Firm asserted large-scale control of drugs in the Western Cape and was exploring links to Gauteng and elsewhere. The Hard Livings had carved out its niche. Lonte used the Americans, which has a federalist structure, to introduce crack and cocaine to the Cape.
Gang bosses such as Staggie, Stanfield, Lonte and others such as Glen Khan, the 28 head of the Cisko Jakkies in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain, removed themselves from the daily nitty-gritty of running a gang, instead giving orders to lieutenants. Their interests expanded to the Western Cape hinterland, to dorpies such as Vredenburg, Wellington, Bredasdorp, Caledon and Pacaltsdorp outside George.
Then People against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) emerged. The anti-drug vigilantes’ first few marches passed almost unnoticed in mid- 1996. Months later the twice-weekly marches regularly attracted more than 1 000 protesters.
On one such march on Sunday, August 4 1996, Rashaad Staggie was pulled from his luxury 4×4, beaten, shot, kicked and set alight as dozens of policemen stood by.
The lynching was a turning point: Pagad was fired up, the surprised police sought explanations in Islamic fundamentalism and the gangs decided to put aside their differences under Core.
Weeks later 3 000 gangsters in full regalia — flags, firearms and gang colours — marched to Parliament, demanding a hearing. And Parliament became the venue for a meeting between then justice minister Dullah Omar and Pagad leaders, where they demanded a hearing.
Authorities adopted a “we don’t speak with gangsters” attitude; the tit-for-tat retaliations between gangsters and the anti-drug vigilantes escalated into what became known as The Cape Flats War.
Gang bosses were gunned down, with a number falling between April and November 1998. This shattered the centralised control and left the path open to younger, ambitious gangsters to fight their turf battles.
In April 1998 Grassy Park Americans boss Adielah Davids was killed with her daughter in her hairdressing salon. Her son-in-law Igshaan “Shaanoeg” Marcus returned to his mother’s home in Hanover Park where he teamed up with fellow Americans boss Gavin Atkins.
Khan was killed in a drive-by shooting over the 1998 Easter weekend.
In November Lonte was gunned down outside his home and key Core figure Ernest “Lapepa” Peters died in hospital after surviving a drive-by shooting near his shebeen in Belhar.
Mongrel gang boss Ishmail April, aka Bobby Mongrel, was murdered in his Grassy Park house. His son, who took over, is currently in jail. His son-in-law, based in Lavender Hill, is now in charge.
The police struggled to deal with the upsurge in violence and the pipe-bombing campaign, which by 1998 had reached white Cape Town through a number of bomb explosions at restaurants, police stations and courts.
High-profile anti-crime campaigns involving police and soldiers such as Operation Recoil (1996 to 1997) and Operation Good Hope (1998 to 2000) received millions of rands, but failed to end the violence.
Frequent cordon-search-and-seizure operations netted many suspects and looked good on paper, but arrests were predominantly for traffic violations, possession of stolen goods and illegal firearms, small quantities of drugs and the odd murder suspect.
To this day police managers decry that gangsters seemed to know when police were coming. That complaint touches a nerve: there remains a distrust of the police on the Cape Flats.
Most residents regard police officers — with a handful of exceptions — as unhelpful, conniving with gangsters whose shebeens and homes they frequent, or even as being on gang payrolls. Gangsters regularly sport police-issue bullet-proof vests.
This scepticism is not unfounded. A review of approximately 1 500 murder and attempted murder dockets handled by the gang investigation unit between 1994 and last year revealed “gross negligence in the handling and investigation of dockets by investigating and commanding officers” and that “in most of the abovementioned dockets, the suspects are still at large and should have been arrested and put through the court process”.
The information note dated June 23 2001 by a top Western Cape police officer, in possession of the Mail & Guardian, also says it “would not be in the interest” of the South African Police Services to act against the members of the gang investigation unit — now merged with the violent crimes unit — because of potential bad publicity.
Instead from late 1999 the state threw its resources behind combating Pagad, which it blamed for the bombings, or “urban terror”. With many of the key anti-drug vigilantes behind bars, the gangs breathed a sigh of relief. Amid resurfacing differences their united front, Core, folded and the number of gangs proliferated as young leaders battled for control.
While Stanfield is finally in jail — for tax evasion — his empire is taken care of by his lieutenants. Other legal actions have failed: the asset forfeiture unit lost its fight against gangsters such as Wonder Boy boss Chris “Ougat” Patterson, who bought a home worth more than R1-million, cars and racehorses, ostensibly from the proceeds of his vegetable hawking business.
Council authorities and the provincial administration are little more successful. Although the majority of Cape Flats homes are council-owned, shebeens flourish.
Yet after many years’ deliberations the Cape Town council must still decide whether to close down the Manenberg Hard Livings headquarters and tavern, Die Hok. Meanwhile, Rashied Staggie says he has found Christ and has converted the illegal structure into a church — with underfloor lighting. By now the lay pastor is said to have consolidated a broad anti-Americans gang front.
Although the Western Cape Anti-Crime Forum (WCACF) successfully trained hundreds of neighbourhood watch members in crime prevention, arrest procedures, first aid and traffic control, the provincial government set up its own training programme.
“When you deal with these politicians you need to be …,” sociologist and community worker Llewellyn Jordaan trails off, shaking his head. “We must put a stop to it. For too long we’ve been taken for a ride by these politicians.”
He wants authorities to realise the necessity of proper sport and recreation facilities, accessible clinics and schools that keep their doors open in the afternoons to keep children off the streets. Instead the provincial Department of Education cited lack of money for the recent end of its truancy reduction programme — an initiative to keep pupils at risk at school.
Jordaan helped broker the Lavender Hill peace deal. One has to work with gangsters, he says, recounting how he was told: “You don’t design or plan anything here without us. You maintain nothing for us without us.”
Lavender Hill, at the southern end of the Cape Flats, is home to about 60 000 people, of which about 65% to 70% are unemployed. Woman-headed households are the norm. There are only three primary schools and one high school and the nearest hospital is in neighbouring Retreat.
“These drug lords and gang leaders are offering recreational facilities. They have big yards, pool tables, game machines and beer; they have soccer clubs,” says Jordaan, who also serves on the WCACF executive. “We need to set alternatives that will be much more exciting than the drug dealers’ yards.”
Until then, there remains the “Gangsters for Life” attitude and the “Thug Life” aspirations immortalised in a mural in the Hard Living turf of Manenberg.
Source: The Mail & Guardian, August 2, 2002.
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