Gang­ster­ism a way of life and death on the Flats

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

I WIT­NESSED my first killing in Hanover Park when I was not even 10 years old. It was a Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon and we watched the gang­sters “en­ter­tain” us in the way they did al­most ev­ery week­end.

Two gangs were chas­ing each other up and down the street, bran­dish­ing pan­gas, axes and “walk­ing talls” (pick axe han­dles).

The gang­sters did not re­ally make contact with each other. It seemed like they were merely chas­ing each other, in one di­rec­tion and then back again.

One got the sense they did not re­ally want to fight, but were merely pass­ing time, as we were do­ing by watch­ing them. Then one of the gang mem­bers fell and was left be­hind by his fel­low gang­sters. The mem­bers of the ri­val gang were able to set upon him. They stabbed him, hacked at him, kicked him, hit him as hard as they could and fi­nally left his life­less body ly­ing in the street.

That was the end of the fight, as the gang mem­bers blended quickly into the blocks of flats they came from, no doubt with the gang which had lost a mem­ber con­tem­plat­ing re­venge. We were watch­ing from our kitchen win­dow, like one would watch a street soc­cer game. The body lay there for a few hours be­fore an am­bu­lance and police ar­rived to take it away. In that time hun­dreds of res­i­dents, not di­rectly linked to the gang, had come to view the corpse.

Some­one cov­ered it. If we had grown up in the time of cell­phones and self­ies, pictures would prob­a­bly have been up­loaded to In­sta­gram and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms within sec­onds.

I don’t know what hap­pened to the killers, but I’m al­most sure they walked away scot-free, de­spite the mur­der tak­ing place in broad day­light and in front of wit­nesses.

I was not trau­ma­tised, be­cause this is what we ex­pected to hap­pen in our town­ship. Watch­ing some­one be­ing killed was as nat­u­ral as be­ing mugged on your way to school in the morn­ing or be­ing ter­rorised in other ways by gang­sters.

I re­mem­ber walk­ing with a good friend past the bus ter­mi­nus in Hanover Park at night. We’d been warned not to walk there, be­cause it was one of those places that could be dan­ger­ous even dur­ing the day. But we were go­ing to visit two sis­ters who lived on the other side of the ter­mi­nus and it is dif­fi­cult to keep testos­terone-driven teenage boys away from girls. Even if their lives could be in dan­ger.

Sud­denly we sensed some­one be­hind us. We both moved out of the way and a guy, who we recog­nised, came tum­bling be­tween us, a knife in his hands.

We quickly grabbed him and dis­armed him. We asked him what he was do­ing and he said his brother had been at­tacked ear­lier by mem­bers of the gang from across the road – I think it was the Mon­grels – and he was seek­ing re­venge by at­tack­ing any­one in sight.

He pleaded with us, be­cause we had over­pow­ered him, to fin­ish him off. But that was not our in­ten­tion – we wanted to get to the girls as soon as pos­si­ble – and we let him go, re­al­is­ing he would prob­a­bly not stop his “re­venge” at­tacks and end up find­ing another vic­tim.

I am of­ten asked how I ended up not be­com­ing in­volved in gangs, and I don’t know the an­swer, which is prob­a­bly com­pli­cated. But gang­ster­ism in­formed much of my young life. The peo­ple in­volved in gangs were our broth­ers, cousins and friends.

Of­ten the only thing de­ter­min­ing which gangs young­sters joined join­ing was geo­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion. So, if one lived in So­lent Court, as I did, one be­came a mem­ber of the Bowa Kids; if you lived in Der­went Court, you joined the Sexy Boys; and a Soet­wa­ter­hof ad­dress meant join­ing the Pipekillers.

For many young­sters who felt re­jected by so­ci­ety, gangs be­came fam­ily, a home where they felt they be­longed and they were de­ter­mined to prove their loy­alty and com­mit­ment.

What I de­scribed above hap­pened about 40 years or more ago, but the sit­u­a­tion has not changed much in places like Hanover Park, with the only dif­fer­ence in most cases be­ing that gang­sters now bran­dish guns more than knives.

I no longer live in Hanover Park but I re­alised how our lives re­main in­ter­twined when some­one who lives around the cor­ner from me in Ron­de­bosch was ar­rested for al­legedly sup­ply­ing guns to gang­sters. With­out try­ing to pre­empt the courts, if he is found guilty, his sen­tence should send a warn­ing such ac­tiv­i­ties will not be tol­er­ated.

The gang sit­u­a­tion on the Cape Flats is com­pli­cated and will prob­a­bly never re­ally be sorted out for as long as there are peo­ple liv­ing in eco­nomic con­di­tions which are ripe for the growth of gangs.

But peo­ple should know if they sells guns il­le­gally to gang­sters, they will be jailed; if they buy stolen goods from gang­sters, they will be jailed; if they har­bour gang­sters and help them to avoid the police, they will be jailed.

We might not be able to change eco­nomic con­di­tions overnight, but we can re­claim our com­mu­ni­ties and en­sure gang­ster­ism is cur­tailed, if not erad­i­cated.

There are many amaz­ing peo­ple who live on the Cape Flats, but their sto­ries and con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety are over­shad­owed by gang­sters who make the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons.

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