Gangs, Guns And Bullets: The Western Cape Is At War

A child sits against a graffitied vibercrete wall, with Table Mountain in the background.

The Cape Flats and Townships of the Western Cape are war zones. The release of the 2018/2019 SAPS crime statistics depicts an overall increase in contact crimes such as assault, stabbings, shootings and murders. The number of murders for the financial period 2018/2019 is 21 022, an average of 58 people a day. In the Western Cape, we have a recorded death toll of 3974 for the reporting period. In the same period, a total of 2771 women were murdered, a murder every three hours. During this same period a total of 1014 children were murdered. Sexual offences in this period have increased from 50 108 to 54 420. These statistics should not be viewed as isolated incidents of Gender Based Violence. These statistics amount to a virtual war waged on the bodies of women and children. The Western Cape has the dubious distinction of being home to seven of the 10 police stations with the highest rate of reported murders in the country.

Why do we in BLAC call this a war? 

The gang related murders in Cape Town is higher than in the rest of South Africa. In fact, it’s not gang violence, it is in fact a war raging on the Cape Flats. The death toll in Cape Town is estimated at more than 2500 from January to November 2019. The mortuaries are full, our emergency medical services personnel suffer from PTSD and public hospitals are practicing battlefield medicine, resulting in overburdened clinics, hospitals and schools. The cost of this war can be calculated in monetary terms; however, it is incalculable in terms of the lives lost and its associated trauma for the survivors and families.

Why do we say the gangs are a State unto themselves? 

Gangs are part of the social fabric of the Western Cape. The gang culture is deeply entrenched in the memory and the daily lived experience of working class communities across the Cape Flats. Over the last two decades the gangs have evolved into sophisticated criminal enterprises, making their monies off the illegal drug trade, gun smuggling, perlemoen poaching, protection rackets, human trafficking and the sex trade. These criminal enterprises act as a virtual government that pays its supporters a wage, offers social welfare services such as paying school fees and purchasing food and electricity for its foot soldiers and their supporters in communities. Like any business, these gangs engage in hostile take overs to secure their turfs from competitors and simultaneously, collaborate with each other when they perceive themselves to be under threat. They import, consume and distribute drugs and human bodies in the pursuit of profit. With more than 150 000 estimated gang members in the Western Cape, we must face the reality that the gangs are in fact armed militias and pose a direct threat to the working class.

We have argued that the gangs in the Western Cape are sophisticated criminal networks. We have argued that they are armed militias that kill at will and who recruit child soldiers into their ranks. The national government refuses to acknowledge this argument and refuses to view these gangs as constituting a direct threat to the security of the citizens of the Republic of South Africa. Provincially and at local government level the DA too refuses to heed our argument and allocate most of their existing metro police and law enforcement officers to police the suburbs and tourist areas.

Why do government refuse to acknowledge this argument?

Although the gangs in the Western Cape are sophisticated business enterprises, they do not manufacture narcotics and weapons. Narcotics are manufactured in the known drug manufacturing countries such as Columbia, Afghanistan, Nigeria etc and are imported into South Africa via our relatively transportation infrastructure and porous borders. Not enough narcotics are intercepted at our borders before making its way into the Cape Flats and Townships. Apart from the occasional intercepts, most narcotics are not intercepted as the gangs pay bribes and salaries to members of SAPS, SANDF and Customs and border control officers. They also pay bribes and salaries to judges, prosecutors and lawyers to ensure that top gang leaders and drug dealers avoid prosecution.

As with narcotics, the gangs and drug lords do not manufacture weapons. Apart from guns stolen from private gun owners, most of the guns and bullets in the possession of the gang leaders and drug lords are sourced from members of SAPS and the SANDF.

AGU/SANDF deployment

Despite the deployment of the AGU, none of the major gang leaders and drug lords have been arrested and prosecuted. With the deployment of the SANDF on 18 July 2019, the government has announced more than 1000 arrests and a decrease in the murder rate from 70 to 30 over the peak murder period which is over weekends and consider this a success of their Operation Lockdown. The achievement is a blatant lie as the murders /war continues. The various NHW, CPF structures and street committees as well as the media continues to report robberies, assaults, stabbings, shootings and murders in the war zones that are supposed to be policed by the AGU and the SANDF.

List of Gangs in the Western Cape

The numbers gang in prison include the 26, 27 and 28 gangs. They continue with their smuggling operations inside jail and continue to give orders to their associates outside prison via corrupt prison officials.

The major gangs include:

The Americans
The Hard Livings
The Sexy Boys
The Fancy Boys
The Mongrels
The Junky Funky Kids
The Firm
The Russian Mafia
The Nigerian Mafia
The Chinese Mafia
The Serbian Mafia

This is the list of the major gangs and all continue to operate their criminal enterprises with total impunity. Unless and until these leaders and second tier leaders of these gangs are arrested and prosecuted, the war on the Cape Flats will continue and the working class will continue to live in fear of being robbed, assaulted, stabbed and murdered. 

This war on the working class continues two other fronts as well

Remember when the bread cartels fixed bread prices. This criminal act against the working class resulted in Pioneer Foods paying a fine of 90 million and still they continue to make profits without one CEO spending a day in jail.

Remember how ABSA traders were involved in illegal trading? Maria Ramos simply apologised and was appointed into a senior economic advisor role to Ramaphosa. Remember the Steinhof billions that were stolen? Remember how VBS Bank was looted of billions? Many black working class pensioners lost their entire savings. Not one bank manager spent a day in jail. Let that fact sink in.

State Capture 

Since 1994, over 300 billion was looted from our municipalities across South Africa and believe me when I s say that this is a conservative estimate. Practically every single tender issued to private companies are funnelled through state employees and even government ministers. Nkandla, the Guptas and Bossasa are all just the tip of the iceberg depicting the corrupt relationship between the state and legal business entities. The rot however within the state is much more systemic. Every single state owned enterprise is virtually bankrupt. SAA, DENEL, TELKOM, Post Office are all managed by a corrupt cabal deployed by the ANC. ESKOM owes more than 400 billion in debt and all these SOEs are annually bailed out by the taxpayer, i.e. you and with no consequences. Whether it is the gang leaders, CEOs and government officials, none of this corrupt cabal has spent a day in jail.

Post 1994, we are thus witness to the emergence and consolidation of a criminal nexus in South Africa made up of organised crime, gangsters in suits masquerading as bank managers and CEOs and a national government of looters, all acting in tandem in a criminal conspiracy that makes the lives of the working class a daily nightmare.

What is to be done?

Major smash and grab spots at main streets, arterial roads, major transport hubs located at identified train stations, taxi routes and bus terminals must be secured at all cost. The working class are robbed, stabbed, shot and killed daily, particularly at peak hours during the week in the morning and evenings and crime escalates on weekends due to the toxic combination of drugs and alcohol.

Trauma interventions

The Cape Flats and Townships are sites of war with daily battlefield casualties. These victims become mere statistics that are reported in the media for its sensational impact. The City health department to my knowledge has undertaken research into the time taken to conduct autopsies. If the deceased has been killed with one bullet it will take x amount of time to conduct an autopsy. If the victim has been shot multiple times, this extends the amount of time taken to conduct an autopsy. Now, I am asking you to consider the trauma of the families. If one deceased person has 10 family members, this constitutes the amount of people having to deal with the associated trauma. Let us do the maths. 2400 deaths multiplied by 10 is 24 000 people directly facing this trauma. If we take an average of 24 000 people directly impacted and multiply it by 12 months for at least the last 10 years we are talking about 240 000 people directly impacted by this war. Now, our emergency medical services and hospitals can at times save the lives of people who have been raped, assaulted, stabbed and shot. Let’s do the maths again and it’s clear that millions of residents are traumatised. This kind of trauma that is part of the lived experience and memory of the Cape Flats and Townships cannot be ignored any longer. How do we ensure the allocation of funds to employ clinical, counselling and educational psychologists to address this trauma in affected communities? 

The demands of the Bishop Lavis Action Community (BLAC) and the Total Shutdown Movement remains as follows:

  • Declare the Western Cape a disaster area in terms of the low intensity war raging in our working-class communities
  • Immediate arrest of all gang leaders and drug lords as per the provisions of the POCA legislation
  • Immediate lock down of all members of the 26, 27, 28 numbers gang in specially designated prisons under 23-hour solitary confinement
  • Immediate deployment of permanent tactical response teams to all the hot zones
  • Immediate deployment of the Public Order Policing Unit to be stationed at permanent base camps in all the hot zones
  • Immediate deployment of Law Enforcement officers to the smash and grab spots and locations where the working class use trains, busses and taxis
  • We demand drug rehabilitation centres for each affected hot zone
  • We demand a public works program at a decent wage where rental stock housing is built close to the City and places of work, schools, hospitals and universities need to be built. Where is the commitment to eradicate the townships and overcrowded flats and build new integrated residential areas. Whether it’s the ANC or the DA, not one RDP home has been built in suburbia or elite areas lest it affects the housing values for the middle classes and the rich. Truly, the City of Cape Town remains an Apartheid City.

The triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality is starkly reflected in a City that has not changed the Apartheid era spatial planning. Here in the shadow of Table Mountain, the untold wealth that exists in Camps Bay is juxtaposed to the open-air concentration camps that is Bishop Lavis and Langa. This contrast is reflected in the reality that ward allocation budget for Bishop Lavis is the same as Bishopscourt and the ward allocation for Langa is the same as Sea Point. At this very moment Bokaap, Woodstock and Salt River is furiously being gentrified by businesses, upper middle class people, all in tandem with the criminal collusion of the local and provincial government.

The State of Working Class organisation

In any movement that seeks to challenge power relations, we will be well advised to consider the political role played by the middle class. Some are born into the class and some come from the ranks of the working class. This class will always vacillate between supporting the ruling class and the working class. Some middle class people will come over fully in their support of the working class and avail their time, resources and at times make the ultimate sacrifice. The majority though will side with the ruling class.

These middle class people lead in our organizations and institutions. They virtually run the NGO sector in South Africa. They head up the big trade unions and even use the word comrade. But they continue to earn their middle class salaries, drive their kwaai cars and live in their kwaai areas.

The rage expressed by women and their allies is legitimate. We must indeed take to the streets to express our anger and demands. But the middle class elements will seek to limit our anger and our demands.

Patriarchy is integral to the Capitalist system. The exploitation of labor can only happen if the working class is divided along race and gender. It’s mostly working class women who produce the labor force required by the system. Working class women are not paid for domestic chores, child rearing and the emotional labor they invest in relationships.

We need to link the demand for an end to rape to a much needed conversation about power. The power of the capitalist system to reproduce their ideas though tradition, culture and organised religion. Through the media and every single institution in society. Then we need to link the conversation about power to a conversation about tactics and strategies to defeat Capitalism. And it is at this point precisely when we will be witness to the vacillation of the middle class.

This rage we see on the streets must morph into a mass movement. We need to link the rape and murder of our bodies to the specific ways in which the Capitalist system of exploitation rapes and murders the working class. Do you have any idea how many black miners have died bringing up the gold and diamonds we love? Let us build on this rage, let the rage morph into a mass movement and let this mass movement be led by the working class and let us fight for a fundamental transformation in our political and economic reality and not allow our legitimate demands for an end to the War on the Cape Flats to be limited by the cowardly sections of the middle class. We have no choice but to raise the consciousness of the working to correctly identify our class enemies, build working class leadership and master the art of organisation.

AK Matthews

Bishop Lavis Action Community 

Total Shutdown

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.