Life goes on in bloody gangland

The bubble in Taryn Francke’s Nike Airs has burst. It’s a source of great laughter here in Ocean View, a Cape Town township that’s a mountain and a 40km highway away from the city.

It happened when men with guns and men with uniforms and guns were running through the tenement blocks, past the kids swinging and hopping, past the aunties and the leeglêers. Shots were fired. Taryn ran. A stray bullet hit the bottom of her Nikes.

Her sombre retelling of the events of the weekend draws laughter from the Junky Funky Kids gangsters perched close by. Some of these young men’s children skip and run up and down the stairs that connect the flats. Most will not venture beyond the concrete slab in front of Oakley Court.

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A Junky Funky leader, Trane (Tears), keeps a watchful eye. It has been four years since he was able to move freely around this 1.75km2 township. Four years since the war between the Junky Funkys and The Taylor gang started.

At the small local cemetery gravediggers complain about the amount of work.

“Sometimes we have to dig three holes in the week, then each man digs another one himself on Friday. This work doesn’t stop, and it’s purely laaities that we are preparing for here,” one of the men says.

It has been nearly 50 years since the first residents of Ocean View arrived here, forcefully removed from Simon’s Town, Noordhoek and other nearby areas under the Group Areas Act. There is no view of the ocean from here.

Trane says his family also comes from Simon’s Town. But he doesn’t care to talk about that. This is the only home he has ever known, he says, as he visually interrogates passersby.

Under siege: The sights and sounds of children at play belie the violence that Ocean View residents have to endure between rival gangs. (David Harrison)

“Die enemy is wakker, soe as hy nie slaap ’ie, slaap ons oek ’ie [The enemy is awake, so if he doesn’t sleep, we don’t sleep],” Trane says.

He earned his name from the faded blue-ink teardrop tattooed on his right cheek — the mark of a murderer in gangland. With many killings marking the most recent gang war, the paranoid watchfulness among the Junky Funky soldiers is fed with crystal meth.

“One of our brothers was killed by those naaiers on Milky Way last weekend. He was still chilling with me and, when I sent him to buy cigarettes at the spaza, he never came back,” Trane explains casually.

For many residents the reopening of schools on Tuesday was a godsend. Between 8am and 4pm, children would be relatively safe.

At 11.05am on Tuesday, a volley of four gunshots ring out from behind a block of flats. By the time a nearby metro police officer arrives, he finds only housewives going about their daily routine, hanging up wet laundry on the washing line, sitting on their small stairway balconies and walking to the shops.

There is a palpable angst even as much of life here is infused with the business of living. In the street a teenager pushes a pram, those who are fortunate to have it go to work, tired eyes beg at the spaza and an enamoured young woman in school uniform smiles demurely at the approaches of the classmate walking her home.

“People have to get on with their lives,” explains a security guard at the civic centre, one block away where the Simon’s Town forced removals club of senior citizens have started their meeting. They have gathered to discuss the 50th annual commemoration of their forced removal. There were gangsters there, too, skollies, but too few to mention. But with real names who wouldn’t think of attacking a local in Simon’s Town.

“Please be careful when walking home, mamas, there’s shooting at the top of the flats,” says local activist Alvin Castro.

Castro runs the Ocean View youth club, which focuses on the arts, and is an accomplished actor himself. He helped cast most of the extras for Noem My Skollie, a movie shot in part in Ocean View and set in a Cape of more than 50 years ago.

The youth club has propelled a host of young talent to stardom and Castro counts South African actor Oscar Peterson and former Scottish Ballet dancing director Vincent Hantam among his peers who have achieved success. Perhaps the most famous Ocean View resident was Peter Clarke, a world-renowned artist and writer who died four years ago. Clarke also helped steer another two generations of Ocean View kids to the arts through his mentorship in the township.

For those able to, the safest way to ensure their children escape unscathed is to send them away. At Marine Primary in Ocean View, two teachers lasted only one day last year when they encountered the gangsters in the grade four, five and six classes.

Marine Primary’s caretaker Lucian Corker sent his son to school in Fish Hoek through a bursary from his former employer. “But he has been complaining that he wants to come to Ocean View Secondary. I told him, ‘No ways in hell you coming here’. They think it’s cool. It’s really messed up, our community.”

At the Ocean View Care Centre, formed primarily to combat gangsterism, Johan Kiekelis says his efforts used to be concentrated on grade nine and 10 pupils but now he deals primarily with grade four to sevens.

“We have weekly cases of sexual violence perpetrated by these kids against each other, and we had a case of a nine-year-old kid breaking abottle and stabbing another kid in the head,” Kiekelis says.

He puts the kids’ lack of concentration and extreme aggression down to the effects of their mothers smoking crystal meth while they were pregnant.

Running alongside Marine Primary, Milky Way is notorious Taylor Gang turf. Last week, 30-year-old Christopher Koopman was gunned down here, following two failed attempts on his life.

“On one occasion they kept shooting right into the doorway where we are sitting now,” Koopman’s mother Sarah says, sitting in her lounge. “But he was not a violent child. He liked jokes and just wanted to work and make money.”

Back in Oakley Court, gangsters revel in stories of primary schoolchildren who have the ability to shoot accurately with a 9mm from 200m away.

The stories are interrupted by Maureen Marshall, a mother of two sons who are currently in jail. She is a former gangster who ran with the Hard Livings in Manenberg.

“Trane, ek wil jou net sê dis nie reg wat jy gedoen het nie. Ek soek my ring terug. Gaan haal net my fokken ring en bring dit terug. Ek weet dit was jy gewees [Trane, I want to tell you that it’s not right what you did. I want my ring back. Just go and fetch my fucking ring and bring it back. I know it was you],” she wags her finger in Trane’s face angrily.

“Ja, Aunty Maureen, ons het mos gesê ons gaan dit terugbring, my aunty [Yes, Aunty Maureen, we said we would bring it back, my aunty],” Trane replies.

Marshall believes the upsurge in gang violence is largely because of gangsters from the Cape Flats seeking refuge in Ocean View, who then inflame the situation.

The police are largely despised in Ocean View. Most residents feel they don’t respond to call-outs in time and have largely failed to ensure gangsters are arrested and remain behind bars.

Even then, gangsters in prison play a part in directing some of the violence, sending out videos and voice notes.

When a video surfaces showing the murder of two teenage boys, a voice note soon follows from inside the prison.

“Ja, I know that guy laying there; he is one of Andrew’s kak Funkys. You see how the number is changing now?” the unnamed gang leader says.

“Die naaiers gaan vra mos tik by die merch maar hulle vergeet ons baklei a war, sien djy! [These naaiers ask for tik from the merchant but they forget that we’re fighting a war, you see!]”, the man laughs as his cellmates chatter in the background.

At nighttime in Ocean View, a police curfew of 8pm sets in to the sound of loud gangsta rap music in Oakley Courts. The Junky Funkys light a fire on top of the sewerage cover and gather around, smoking crystal meth and mandrax buttons.

The night is littered with the sound of gunshots, first at Oakley Court, then another volley of shots further up the road. The shooting happens frequently, followed by dogs barking, and then settles down. This is repeated until 3am, when it is finally quietened down by the sound of police sirens.

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Early on a weekday morning, a sergeant in the 27s gang released from prison a year ago has run into another gang member recently released from prison.

“Die ouens sabela baie oor jou daar binne [The guys talk about you a lot on the inside],” the newly freed man says. He explains how the sergeant has been praised for taking down his enemies.

Passing schoolchildren, rushing to get to school, greet him: “Salute, sergeant.” The fear or respect is indistinguishable in their tone.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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