On the day former Hard Livings gang leader Rashied Staggie was buried, no expense was spared.
Stretch limousines ferried his family from their home in Salt River to the church, and then to a hero’s viewing of his body on his home turf of Manenberg. A bagpiper, decked out in traditional Highlands dress complete with tartan kilt, led the procession. Staggie’s final transport to his resting place was a Range Rover hearse with side-opening doors and a rotating platform.
This was the send-off for a man who, along with his late brother Rashaad, became near mythological figures on the Cape Flats for their roles in organised crime and gangs.
Rashaad was killed in a vigilante attack by anti-gangsterism group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) in 1996. He was shot, stabbed, and set alight — which only served to entrench the legend of the Staggies and the Hard Livings gang.
On the same day of Rashied’s funeral, the true legacy of the two brothers continued on the other side of the city, in Lavender Hill. With its tenement flats, absence of any greenery, and young men on street corners, it may as well have been Manenberg.
Five-year-old Valentino Grootetjie was in the backyard of his family’s home in Drury Court. A man being chased by gangsters ran into the yard to seek refuge. With the man cornered, the gangsters in pursuit fired indiscriminately. Grootetjie was struck in the head and died instantly.
Community based groups held crowdfunding campaigns to assist his family to give him a dignified burial.
He was laid to rest three days after Christmas.
The violent legacy of gang warfare and organised crime in Cape Town which made the Staggies rich had claimed its latest victim.
Of course Cape Town gangsterism was not founded by the Staggies. They too were the products of the Group Areas Act and forced removals from District Six, Claremont, Newlands and Simonstown, among others.
They too bore the brunt of the absence of meaning and belonging. They also eked out livings, turning to crime to support their families who were tossed to the economic margins of society.
Many people who live on the Cape Flats will say the contributing factors that lead to the allure of gangs for the Staggies are still around today — high unemployment, dysfunctional family units and the absence of positive male role models. Add to that the consumer culture of instant gratification and the attainment of goods such as branded sneakers, phones and jewellery. Young people see the cliques of gangs as their way out of poverty.
The casual Facebook or news website commentator and the talk radio caller have been quick to declare that residents of gang-affected communities must speak up. That they must identify and report gangsters to the police. They must also testify in court if they have witnessed a crime.
This is easier said than done when the gangsters shooting, maiming and killing people in the streets are the same people communities turn to when the fridge is empty. They’ve become the welfare providers in the absence of the state.
Who would testify against the source of their next meal?
Western Cape Police Commissioner Yolisa Matakata understands this. The new provincial top cop was introduced this week. The former acting head of the Hawks, Matakata’s résumé indicates she has intimate knowledge of the workings of transnational and organised crime and their effects on Cape Town’s street gangs.
The effect is confirmed by studies done by researcher journalists Don Pinnock and Caryn Dolley in their respective books Gang Town and The Enforcers: Inside Cape Town’s Deadly Nightclub Battles. The illicit economy of drugs, sex and poaching is seamlessly interwoven into Cape Town’s traditional economy of tourism, restaurants and nightclubs.
On solving the issue of Cape Flats street gangs, Matakata said she’s open to a holistic method of reducing drugs and crime.
This is a sentiment echoed by anti-gang campaigners, with their refrain: “We don’t need 1 000 police. We need 1 000 teachers and 1 000 jobs.”
It would mean state entities, such as social development, flooding gang-addled areas with social workers to help heal the trauma of a violent history and intervene in family units ravaged by gender-based violence, drug and alcohol dependency.
It would require employment for aimless youths to support themselves and their families.
It would mean interventions in the criminal justice system because even when criminals and gangsters are brought to book and face justice, removing them completely from the lives of their children could perpetuate the vicious cycle that begins with feelings of not belonging.
Since July 2019, the South African national defence force has been assisting the police in stabilising gang and crime-ridden hotspots in Cape Town in a programme known as Operation Lockdown. This deployment is expected to expire in March this year.
There has been very little feedback from police whether the operation is actually working.
I would bet my house that if you were to ask Valentino Grootetjie’s family, they’d say it isn’t.