It made headlines in the 1990s for its hardline approach to drug dealers and gangsters in the Western Cape, as well as its involvement in a string of bombings that put many of its leaders behind bars.
Since the release of its national co-ordinator, Abdus Salaam Ebrahim, in September 2008, Pagad has been welcomed back to many Western Cape communities that continue to battle gang violence and drugs.
On his release from Malmesbury Prison, Ebrahim said that Pagad would set up branches across South Africa and continue its war on drugs. But Gauteng is a different community to the Western Cape and a researcher in community violence, Eldred de Klerk from research and training organisation Africa Analysis, said: “In essence, Gauteng doesn’t need Pagad; certain communities in Gauteng need Pagad. The communities it targets have a certain fabric – they see themselves as disconnected from the wider political arena, similar to communities in the Western Cape. These communities also do not have a relationship with the police and do not feel secure.”
Pagad’s Gauteng co-ordinator, Mike Fetane, disagrees: “The message is clear. People in Gauteng are fed up with the police not doing anything about drug dealers in communities. People have become friendlier to the idea of Pagad and they are more ready for action.” The organisation has no solid base for its operations in Gauteng, but “there is no doubt that membership will pick up and we will be well established in this area soon”, said Fetane.
In the meantime, Pagad is sharing platforms at meetings with local anti-drug organisations in Gauteng.
“This is where we explain to people how we plan to help with the war on drugs. We want to continue our peaceful marches, but we will also take up legal battles with the police if they do not act harshly against drug dealers and gangsters. We are not violent and have no intention of being violent,” said Fetane.
Despite organising peaceful marches in the Western Cape over the past two years, Ebrahim was arrested in August on suspicion of a murder committed in Lotus River in the Western Cape. He was later released because of a lack of evidence. Pagad spokesperson Osman Saib said the arrest was “a clear smear campaign against Pagad”.
He said that the organisation’s plan in Gauteng was merely to “make sure the police are doing their job when it comes to getting rid of drug dealers. But we will not hesitate to defend ourselves against drug dealers and gangsters if we are in any way attacked during our marches.”
This could be why Gauteng anti-drug organisations show support for Pagad and its plans in the province, but are wary about being publicly associated with it.
Glen Campbell, head of Sanity, an anti-drug group based in Florida on the West Rand, said: “I contacted Pagad so that our fight against drugs could have more of an effect. We had a meeting and they wanted me to be their co-ordinator for the West Rand. But I was told by the police that they [Pagad] have a bad reputation and associating myself with them would mean that I will be held responsible if anything happens to a drug dealer in the area. That is when I backed off. I am not prepared to sit in prison.”
Florida Police Station’s commander, Colonel Cassie Rautenbach, said it was important for the community to get involved in alerting the police to drug dealing. He was unable to give an official comment on Pagad, but said the police welcomed “any organisations and individuals that are willing to help with the fight against drugs and crime, as long as they do not take the law into their own hands and become violent, because then they become a problem”.
Said De Klerk: “Pagad portrays an image of militancy and it has to, but its bark is bigger than its bite. It has the will, but doesn’t have the capability. It also knows that any violence it exerts now will be returned with equal force from the authorities.”