Gangs: Causes, effect and solution
LAST time, I wrote a piece on violent crime in Lesotho and lamented the fact that this malaise was on the rise. I observed that it was attributable to a musical genre aligned with certain political parties and are identifiable by the colour of blankets they wear.
However, I sounded a word of caution that by associating with these political parties’ readers should not be led to believe that these parties acquiesce to the violent conduct. In fact, no political party worth its salt and still harbours the ambition of garnering support from the masses would sanction or promote the use of violence. These gangs are mostly based in the Mafeteng district in the south of the country and belong to certain musical genres known colloquially as seakhi and terene.
Gangsterism is an age-old problem that has been associated with mankind for generations throughout the world. Gangsters are generally defined as members of violent groups whose major purpose is to wreak havoc and mayhem within communities. They operate in sometimes non-geographically defined areas and at times within non-demarcated areas. They have a certain modus operandi, rules and a code of conduct that distinguishes them from the rest of the general society they operate in.
They have distinct cultures and traditions that distinguish them from the general community for instance, their funeral services are intimidating to attend. They mostly feel macho and daring in their activities, attaching little or no significant importance to acceptable societal values, norms and principles. Wherever they operate, theirs is a reign of terror and destruction as they engage in lawless and destructive activities that often and perpetually engulf affected communities in fear of their lives and properties. For the life of me, I have never heard of gangsters engaging in community-building or law-enforcement activities, even if they engage in the latter, they often go beyond norms of acceptable standards of behaviour and legality.
In Lesotho, a typical example are the “shapa-shapa” gangs that have no equivalent English terms save that as the name connotes, they ostensibly engage in community policing and law enforcement generally through beatings. However, consequences of their activities are invariably going beyond the remit of legally acceptable precepts and, in some cases, grievous assault, murder and destruction to property and a reign of terror. However, this column is not on the “shapashapa” groups but as earlier alluded to, on the members of the seakhi and terene musical genres.
However, before I leave the reference to “shapa-shapa”, I need to draw parallels between this vigilante group, which is not strictly and sociologically speaking a gang but of course similar to a gang for lack of a better term, and the PAGAD, in the Western Cape, South Africa. PAGAD in full stands for People Against Gangsterism and Drugs. It is vigilante group that was formed by some people on the Cape flats to combat unlawful activities in addition to drug abuse and as the name connotes, gangsterism.
PAGAD, like all vigilante groups, in their combat of lawlessness and crime, because they feel mainstream law-enforcement agencies are inadequate to combat crime, do not know the legal bounds of law-enforcement and therefore go beyond them in the process violating the law and sadly sometimes engage in extra-judicial killings.
The most notorious of these activities by PAGAD was the burning alive after being shot of Rashaad, who was the leader of the Hard Livings gang in 1996. Rashaad had his twin brother, Rashied, and they were gang leaders of the notorious gang that ran amok on the Cape flats.
The gang participated in a range of crimes such as armed robbery, dealing of guns and drug distribution. On the other side of the divide, there was the rival Americans and the Mongrols whose gang wars led to bloodbath in the streets of Cape Town and the Cape flats. As a counter to this reign of terror the community formed the vigilante group PAGAD. This ultimately led to the ignominious shooting and burning alive of Rashaad, in Salt River, Cape Town as the reign of terror reached its zenith.
In Lesotho’s rural areas and the mountainous parts of the country, where there is very little formal policing as we urban dwellers know it, communities have formed “shapashapa” vigilante groups that though their objectives are well-intended, end-up engaging in extra-judicial killings that more often than not end-up in court.
However, casting our mind back to the seakhi and terene gangs in Lesotho, it has to be noted that these gangs have recently instilled fear and intimidation in the communities they operate in and even in Maseru the capital. Their reign of terror and callous killings by shooting has caused mayhem, untold harm and fear amongst entire communities and among ordinary law-abiding citizens. Ominously, the killings have gone even into neighbouring South Africa’s towns and cities where Basotho are found in large numbers. It is even more disturbing when one considers that these killings affect everybody indiscriminately, whether belonging or not belonging to these gangs. The killings know no bounds and are ruthless. They know no sex, occupation, profession or political affiliation.
It seems the police and other law-enforcement agencies have made very little progress in curbing and bringing to book the perpetrators of these brutal murders. To an extent, one has to understand the massive challenge facing the police and others in law-enforcement agencies, as they are short of resources, both material and manpower to put any meaningful curb to these senseless and coldblooded-murders.
These killings happen sporadically, are not confined to certain areas or a particular group or during certain events or times. They just spring-up like wildfires that have gotten terribly out of control. In short, without adequate intelligence and information, co-operation from the public, who understandably also are fearful, the manpower and material resources of the police and other agencies cannot successfully wage a winning war against this scourge.
These gangs are problematic because, unlike street gangs they are very difficult to monitor and control let alone prosecute successfully. They are more organized. Street gangs usually are made up of youngsters, who congregate on street corners, smoke dagga, drink alcohol and intimidate passers-by.
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