High noon for the Hard Living kids

Residents of Cape Town’s gangster-ridden communities are making a determined effort to stem the spiral of crime and violence, reports Rehana Rossouw

RASHIED and Rashaad Staggie are household names on the Cape Flats. The identical-twin brothers are referred to admiringly as “the untouchables” and “Cape Town’s Kray

The Staggies are role models to an estimated 100 000 gangsters in the area who have turned the Flats into a Gotham City of spiralling crime and violence that has stretched the patience of the community to the limit.

This weekend, a major community crime prevention conference will be hosted by the Western Cape Anti-Crime Forum, an alliance of 50 organisations in the Cape. They have invited 200 representatives of anti-crime organisations to tell the police, prisons and justice departments how to stem the crime wave.

“Gang-related crime is completely out of control on the Cape Flats,” says vice-chairperson of the Anti-Crime Forum, Willem Basson. “What worries me is that, in communities where many children are being reared by single parents, gangsters have become role models for the young boys, people they admire because they drive BMWs and Porsches.

“Gang leaders are accessible and sympathetic to young boys looking for male role models. They are in the neighbourhood every day, flashing their wealth and their power; they are not far removed like the Trevor Manuels and the Chester Williamses who should be our role models.”

The most active gangs in the Cape are the Americans, Hard Living Kids, Mongrels, Clever Kids and Jesters. Other gangs’ names belie their viciousness, like the Nice Time Kids, Laughing Boys, Lonesome Boys and Sexy Boys. Then there are names guaranteed to invoke fear: the Vulture Kids and the Scorpions.

Although the primary business of gangs is crime and violence, there are distinct types operating in the Cape. The “corner kids” draw their membership from youths who live in blocks of flats, who emulate adult gangs and are often used by them as couriers.

‘Defence gangs” are probably the most widespread and specialise in pay packet robbery, car break-ins and housebreaking. “Reform gangs” have their roots in reformatories and schools of industry, where boys are recruited as soon as they enter the institutions. On the streets, they specialise in drug dealing, housebreaking and

At the top of the dungheap of Cape gangs are the “family mafias”, led by members of the same family. Their business is drug wholesaling and extortion. The mafias have “cells” throughout the Peninsula.

Basson says most gang members are youths, and they are used at the forefront of gang wars, committing most of the murders and other acts of violence. Young members are also used to “take the fall” for older gangsters, in exchange for a promotion in the gang hierachy when they are released from prison.

Youths are also used as couriers for drugs and as dealers. It is not uncommon on the Cape Flats for a family to be supported by the drug earnings of a teenager.

“The war against drugs in South Africa will be won or lost in the Western Cape,” says Basson. “In the past year the price of Mandrax has increased 100 percent and experts tell us this is to prepare the market for crack. We can’t allow this to happen. Crack will destroy our communities.”

Gang activity is branching out beyond turf wars and protection rackets on the Flats. Police reports indicate that they have extensive business interests in prostitution and drug dealing in the city centre and Sea Point.

The gangs are well armed, as many residents whose lives are shattered almost every evening by the sound of gunfire echoing through their townships can testify. In recent months internal police investigations revealed that two of the gangs’ sources for weapons were the defence force and police force.

Allegations of police complicity in gangs is so widespread and emanate from so many different sources that many residents in gang-torn areas have lost faith in the force’s ability to curb gangsterism.

In a top-secret document compiled by police intelligence last year and leaked to the press, disturbing incidents of police collusion with gangsters were detailed. They included the supply of arms to gangs, tip-offs about police raids and even direct police involvement in gang activity.

Police are at present investigating nine cases against members of the force involving bribery and revealing information about police raids to gangsters.

“Many residents report to us that they are fed up with their local police station’s response to gang-related incidents. We are told that the police either fail to investigate when they receive reports or do not investigate thoroughly enough,” Basson says.

“The police are easy to buy off — they earn very little. At the same time, police stations are badly understaffed and overworked. And if a policeman lives in the area in which he is stationed, there’s a risk that his family members will be threatened or attacked if he’s too eager to do his job properly.”

Police deployment in the Cape is still skewed along racial lines. Tragically, the most gang-infested areas have the least police resources. In the heart of Manenberg’s gangland, the police satellite station — a caravan — had to pull out when they were needed most by the community. A police station in Hanover Park was based in a container and had to close at 7pm because it was too dangerous to stay

Combating gangsterism and decreasing the levels of violence and crime in the Cape has been given a high priority by the ruling National Party. MEC for Police Services Patrick McKenzie has devoted significant attention to visiting gang-torn areas and to beefing up the police’s ability to curb gangsterism.

The police Gang Unit, increased from 33 to 95 members recently, is at the forefront of the war on gangs. Police communications head Colonel Raymond Dowd says police are satisfied that the unit is adequately resourced.

‘The Gang Unit, while operating throughout the Western Cape, is primarily assigned to those areas plagued by the criminal activity of gangsterism,” Dowd says.

“In the medium to long term, the causes of the phenomenon can only be addressed through the reconstruction and development of affected communities.”

At the weekend conference, the Anti-Crime Forum will address initiatives they believe will halt the spiral of gangster-related crime.

“The police were very creative when they smashed opposition to apartheid,” says Basson. “We want them to be as creative when they smash gangsterism. It’s not enough to make a symbolic arrest of a courier at the airport when drugs are brought in, or to arrest a teenager with a pistol every few months. We want the untouchables, the drug lords and the weapons dealers, brought to justice.”

“A Witness Protection Programme like the ones used in the United States and Italy is not far-fetched for the Cape,” says Basson. “We’re up against 100 000 gangsters here — the scale of the problem is as large as in other countries.

“We are also going to address the issue of establishing a juvenile prison where youths can be rehabilitated properly. We have young people convicted in the Cape of serious crimes involving violence, and sending them to Pollsmoor is like sending them to the university of crime.

“We want communities involved in the Parole Board — we want to be informed when gangsters are released from prison so that their own communities can monitor them and make sure they don’t go back to a life of crime.

“We want technical courses at our high schools so that our youth are equipped to earn a living once they leave school and there are other job opportunities besides joining a

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