He may have been the boss of a powerful street gang, but Gavin Atkins was buried like a community leader.
Scores of residents stood in hymn-singing tribute outside the council flat where his family wept on Monday morning. ”Dis mooi [ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s beautiful],” said more than one onlooker as the long white hearse cruised by, carrying a cream and maroon coffin with gleaming gold handles.
The mourners in Hanover Park — an impoverish neighbourhood on the Cape Flats — were commemorating not the thug and drug dealer, but the patron they went to for help when they were failed by what many see as an inadequate state support system.
Only one woman quietly gave voice to her concern: ”As long as thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no violence.”
Hanover Park was braced for trouble. The local schools were closed as a precaution. A nearby field served as the landing site for a police helicopter and a base for the officers who had crammed into a dozen or so police cars.
Atkins (30) was shot dead in his luxury bakkie at Access Park, a discount shopping complex on the edge of Cape TownÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s middle-class suburbia. His death came hours after he helped bury his sisterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boyfriend, Curt Williams, an earlier victim of the shootings that have claimed seven gang members in less than two weeks.
The hit men who killed Atkins and slightly injured his girlfriend eliminated the man the state could not keep off the streets — despite its focus on arresting the men that local politicians call ”high-flyers”, the most influential gang kingpins.
That approach, launched with great fanfare by Ebrahim Rasool in late 2003, has largely been a failure.
Last November, the Cape High Court freed Atkins because of a botched identity parade that had fingered him in a 1996 armed robbery. He had earlier been sentenced to 12 years in jail by a magistrate who survived being shot during the trial.
Just before the Hanover Park gang killings started a fortnight ago, another high-flyer, Junior Mafia leader Mujahid Daniels, was acquitted on four murder and six attempted murder charges. His advocate told the Cape High Court that the only link to the killings had been the word of the gunmen.
In January last year, Ernest ”Lastig” Solomons, a senior boss of the 28s gang and allegedly the man in charge of abalone smuggling in the Western Cape, was acquitted on murder charges.
Criminologist and researcher Irvin Kinnes argued that this focus on organised crime and murder has diverted attention from a growing drug problem.
”So much energy and so many resources [have been] ploughed into the high-flyers, little has been left for ordinary policing and community policing,” said Kinnes. ”What weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen in Hanover Park is about drugs. These people command empires.”
Policing sources identify Atkins as a key tik (methamphetamine) dealer — and it seems to have been a family affair.
In 1999, AtkinsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother, Adielah ”Mama America” Davids, was gunned down in a Grassy Park hair salon by anti-drug vigilantes People against Gangsterism and Drugs. By 2001, he was working with his brother-in-law, Igshaan ”Oeg” Marcus. In June 2001, the two men were arrested in connection with almost 2 000 Mandrax tablets, worth R80 000, which were seized from an 11-year-old school boy. A police sergeant was drawn into the net when he tried to help the two gangsters offer bribes for the return of the seized drugs.
It is a sign of the mainstreaming of the gang world; profits are now increasingly channelled not into gold chains, but investments, for example, in Cape TownÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s booming property market.
Atkins bought a building and donated it to one of the charismatic churches that are so popular on the Cape Flats. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s part of a tradition of ”benevolence” to help out when, for instance, the rent is overdue.
The importance of patronage from the bosses highlights the failure of local government, with locals accusing councillors of helping only those who can return favours. One community leader said the council was only interested in getting the rent from its buildings: it will evict a law-abiding resident who canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pay in favour of a gangster who can, he said. Certainly AtkinsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s council flat at Moray Court is easily spotted; it is the only one with metal grilles on the windows.
On Monday, scores of taxis and at least five buses brought Hanover Park residents to the Catholic Church. ”The laaities [youngsters] were sitting with their guns on top of my bus,” said one woman, shaking her head.
Outside the church, and later at the graveyard, the mansskappe (gang members) who attended could have been ordinary working men, were it not for the odd uncovered tjappie (gang tattoo) and the American flag in the background.
The gang underworld gives the official reason for the Hanover Park shootings as revenge. The talk is now of war. ”Fuck the cops,” reads an Americans graffito, ”only God will judge US.”
Schools reopened the day after the funeral. Police in official cars and unmarked vehicles cruised up and down Hanover Park. Gunshots were traded early in the morning, and again later on near a high school.