A big day out in Cape Town for scores of families. Most of them are coloured. They are patiently waiting for their annual carnival to dance through the streets. It’s the “Tweede Nuwe Jaar”. There have been rehearsals for months and seamstresses and tailors have been busy putting the finishing touches to costumes and fancy dress. There is great anticipation as parents with children munch away on their homemade sandwiches and Fanta orange drinks.
On the sidewalk drinking coffee and eating a toasted sandwich myself, patiently waiting as well for the carnival to dance pass I watch, speechless as 2 young boys played the game of “guns and gangsters”. Their parents and everyone around them didn’t blink an eye. The father did nonchalantly say when the one of the boys pointed the gun at his sister. “Henrik, don’t point that gun at your sister”, but that was only after I had given him a filthy look!
Back on the Cape Flats however, gangsters are not playing games at all. They are wheeling and dealing, killing and conspiring. If you are a gangster, you are too busy to bother with family outings. There are huge consignments of mandrax and cocaine arriving in Durban harbor. You have drug mules who work as south African Airways hostesses arriving at Johannesburg airport. There is a container of “perlemoen” perishing by the hour in Cape Town harbor. Someone forgot to pay off the customs official and back on the streets more children need to be recruited and trained to shoot using live targets.
“the fact that the Moroccans and Nigerians, as well as the Russian and Italian Mafia have all established operations in Cape Town indicates the extent of the growth in the illegitimate opportunity structure”. (Urban Street Gangs to Criminal Empires: The Changing Face of Gangs in the Western Cape, By Irvin Kinnes).
Despite the police urging the community to report illegal drugs and guns and to inform on the gangsters, they do not.
In the Cape Flats on the outskirts of Cape Town, gangsters have become role models to children and teenagers. Broken families are the order of the day and poverty is rife. The problem is exacerbated by the fragility of families caused by unemployment and poverty.
No shortage of money, fancy cars, American rapper-bling, hood-fashion, tattoos, guns, drugs. All of this can be yours if you do your duties for your chosen gang. If you live from hand to mouth and have nothing to strive for, no hope, what would you do?
You have to eat and you don’t want to go hungry. If there is no other future for you and you cannot see beyond the streets of “Manenberg”, your best bet is becoming a gangster. After all you too want the happiness that you see on TV and in the movies. It all seems to glorious.
Some children have never felt the love of a parent, a hug or a kiss. There is no nurturing. Families are broken. Parents are divorced or they argue and fight as they struggle to survive from day to day.
So children go to where they feel important, where their loyalty to gangsters gets them a free meal or some pocket money. And, eventually they are able to do more and more. They might even end up in prison for petty crimes but once inside they are taught to be hardened criminals and when they return to the streets they become so much more brazen.
Gang warfare in Cape Town is out of control. Everyday in schools teachers and pupils prepare themselves for more fighting, more shooting. No one feels safe. The gangsters are a law unto themselves. The police can’t cope, it seems to be getting worse.
Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Gareth Newham said in a statement. “Violence remains unacceptably high and should be treated as a serious crisis which standard in the way of South Africa’s social and economic development”.
Ms Fourie, who chatted to me on the sidewalk that day said that things were getting bad. She lives in Manenberg in the heart of gangland has had to keep her daughter home from school on so many days. “My husband was killed in cross-fire last year by those “skollies”. It’s really tough for us but where else can we go? The gangsters provide many basic needs for us and we give them protection from the police and loyalty. I have to do this to protect my daughter. If I don’t one day she will be raped, that for sure”, she exclaims!
Gangs in Cape Town began to form during the apartheid era when coloured people were expelled from the city centre. District Six to be exact. With no reliable police system to turn to, they began creating their own protection and more violent crime has eventually been the result. The Numbers Gang, The Americans, the Hard Livings, the Sexy Boys to name a few. There are over 100,000 gang members in Cape Town and the Numbers Gangs, the 26’s, 27’s and 28’s are fully ensconced in South Africa’s prisons. Pollsmoor Prison in Cape town to be precise.
These highly organized criminals have now formed alliances with Nigerian, Russian, Chinese and Italian criminal groups for the protection and sale of heroin, mandrax and methamphetamine, (known as “tik” in the Cape). There is diamond smuggling, prostituition, shebeening (illegal drinking houses in the townships) and “perlemoen” (abalone) smuggling. Gang warfare is growing as the gangs become more powerful, more money flows through their infrastructures and they join the criminal elite in the world.
Irvin Kinnes in his paper “Urban Street Gangs to Criminal Empires: The Changing Face of Gangs in the Western Cape, goes onto say.
“Crime families in the United States, Europe and Latin America have all had small beginnings. The Gambino family, the Corleone family and other important crime syndicates such as the Cali and Medéllin drug cartels, at some time or another, were small-time street criminals within their respective communities. Criminal organisations flourish in a situation where there is uncertainty about the political and economic development of any country undergoing transition. Today, the Western Cape and indeed the entire country are dotted with Nigerian cocaine cartels, Chinese triads, Moroccan protection gangs and, to a lesser extent, Pakistani textile syndicates. These syndicates have exploited the relative inexperience of their South African criminal counter-parts, and till continue to do so. All the while our children and our youth are caught in the middle of this downward spiral and with so much poverty and unemployment anyway in south Africa, its hard to find any short-term solutions for these children now.