Gangs: Causes, ef­fect and so­lu­tion

Lesotho Times - - Opin­ion & Anal­y­sis - Ut­loang Ka­jeno

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.

Con­tin­ued on page 21...

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