Gangsterism a way of life and death on the Flats
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.