The release from prison on parole of Hard Livings gang leader Rashied Staggie, has sparked fear among Manenberg residents on the Cape Flats.
Police vigorously opposed his release .
Veteran gangbuster Major General Jeremy Vearey attended Staggie's parole hearing on May 21 at the Worcester Prison.
"I was present and I definitely opposed his parole," he told the Mail & Guardian, adding he did not have any jurisdiction over the parole board. "Only correctional services can make those decisions."
Vearey was the investigating officer in the case of 30-year-old Chantelle Knight, who 10 years ago turned state witness and put Staggie behind bars after she testified against the men who gang raped her. In July, Knight was shot five times in a field in Manenberg. Her boyfriend Ramano Olivier, the father of her five children, lay dead from gunshots beside her.
The community has been under the impression that Knight died in hospital, but Vearey said that she is alive and is in a witness-protection programme.
"Given the circumstances, I had to devise some misdirection on the matter and had to be slightly economical with the truth as to whether she was alive or dead. I just did not clarify certain issues," he said.
"I did not want to say anything that would point in her direction or to her whereabouts. I had to exploit the confusion among the gangs at the time to ensure she was secure, and I took responsibility for her safety. I needed to get her to a deeper level of security so she couldn't be accessed as a target in the area. She is alive."
Two men have been arrested in connection with Knight's shooting and Oliver's murder. They are expected to appear in court in Cape Town on September 20. Both are believed to be members of the Hard Livings gang.
"They are still in custody and they abandoned their bail applications," said Vearey. "It is not sufficient to suggest that, because of the history of this case, it can be linked to Staggie. We are still investigating."
Vearey said Staggie has been a "fighting general" of the 26s gang while in prison and all his visits had been monitored.
Staggie is due to be released back into the community on September 23 on day parole, and he will return to prison or a halfway house at night. The gang leader will be placed on full parole in March next year if he does not commit an offence before then.
Gang fighting has escalated in Manenberg in recent months, leading provincial authorities to close schools in the area while they arranged extra security for teachers and pupils.
Hostility between the Hard Livings and the Americans gangs runs deep in the impoverished area.
Some police officers believe the increased gang fighting is the result of members jostling for position and favours ahead of Staggie's release from prison.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes including robbery, rape, housebreaking and theft, as well as for the illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.
The correctional services department is investigating whether Staggie had anything to do with a stash of money, narcotics and cellphones found in the cell he shares with 30 other prisoners. If Staggie is found to have been involved in the collection of this contraband, the parole board will be informed of the findings, said James Smalberger, chief deputy commissioner of the department of correctional services' incarceration and corrections unit.
In the meantime, anxiety is running high in Manenberg.
"For the community, it is the image of what a person like Staggie and his history represents to them," said Vearey. "In gangs, it elicits the response: 'The general is coming. We need to prove ourselves.'"