In the grip of vice

● For­mer gang­ster who lost two sons to the scourge tells of the pow­er­ful hold gangs in the north­ern areas have on the com­mu­nity

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - Front Page - Siyabonga Se­sant sesants@ti­soblack­star.co.za

“Be­ware of the vi­cious dog” is the tat­too em­bla­zoned on for­mer gang­ster Bernard Valen­tine’s chest.

But th­ese days it is Valen­tine who is look­ing over his shoul­der as gang­sters try to scare him back into the fold.

Just be­low his tat­too is a ghastly wound as a re­sult of a gun­shot which did not kill him – un­like the bul­lets which ended the lives of two of his four sons.

Valen­tine’s story is just one in a countless cat­a­logue of ac­counts of fear and death in streets where the gang­ster is king and where, as one crime­fighter has said, money and power rule be­cause the gangs be­lieve they are un­touch­able.

Speak­ing from his He­len­vale home this week, at a time when vi­o­lence and cold-blooded mur­der have rocked the north­ern areas with the killing of three young­sters in Booy­sen Park, Valen­tine, 58, gave a frank ac­count of how gangs in the area have a vice-like grip on the com­mu­nity.

And he would know, as he has been both a mem­ber of a gang and a vic­tim.

“I joined gangs when I was 17 years old – first I was with the Mon­grels and then in the 90s I joined the Boomshakas,” Valen­tine said.

“At the time I thought the only way to de­fend my­self was to take a gun and shoot back at the [other] gang­sters who were tar­get­ing me.

“But I thank God I never shot and killed any­one.”

Valen­tine, who went to prison at least five times dur­ing what he said was 21 years in gang­ster­ism, said he had turned his back on gangs in 1999.

“I de­cided, no, I must now with­draw my­self from gang­ster­ism for my chil­dren’s sake. I didn’t want them to fol­low in my foot­steps or be tar­geted for things that I have done.”

But that thought was to prove all too prophetic for Valen­tine, who has ex­pe­ri­enced a se­ries of shoot­ings at his bul­let-rid­dled home which he be­lieves are due to his know­ing who is be­hind the killing of his sons.

It all be­gan when Valen­tine’s youngest son, Ti­aan, 18, was shot about a dozen times out­side his home in 2015.

“I was work­ing in­side when my child [Ti­aan] got shot. I re­mem­ber think­ing fire­works were go­ing off, but then I heard him cry­ing out for me.”

Valen­tine rushed out­side to see his son’s killer fir­ing “about 12 bul­lets” into his body be­fore flee­ing.

A year later Valen­tine was again in­side the house when he heard gun­shots in the yard.

“I ran to the door and saw some­one stand­ing at the bot­tom of the stairs. As our eyes met, the guy started shoot­ing at me. The four shots missed.”

He said there had been chil­dren in­side the house and he had gone to check on them.

“Luck­ily all of them were fine and af­ter like a minute I thought to go look out­side

where my son [Gre­gory] was.

“When I went out­side I saw my son had been shot in the head [but] he was still alive.”

Gre­gory, 38, died in hos­pi­tal about 90 min­utes later.

In 2017 Valen­tine al­most lost a third child. Once again at home, he said he had re­ceived a call and some­one said: “Hey, there are armed guys on their way to your house.”

“I im­me­di­ately went out­side and told the kids.” But even as they stood out­side, gun­men opened fire on him and his two other sons, one of whom was shot through the stom­ach. He sur­vived, af­ter spend­ing more than a week in hos­pi­tal.

Six months ago, gun­men hit yet again, this time nearly killing Valen­tine.

“I was re­turn­ing home from tak­ing my grand­child to a nearby creche and I stopped to speak to two friends of mine.

“As we were talk­ing I just heard a car be­hind me slam on brakes and gun­shots go­ing off.”

He was shot in the but­tocks, with the bul­let still lodged in his body de­spite surgery, re­sult­ing in the wound he bears.

“I be­lieve all th­ese at­tacks on me and my fam­ily are be­cause I know the killers of my sons.

“They want to kill me be­cause I will be able to iden­tify them,” Valen­tine said.

“They will not suc­ceed be­cause God is on my side. I pray ev­ery morn­ing and ev­ery night.

“But I still worry about my fam­ily. I can’t sleep peace­fully at night [be­cause] if they [gang­sters] can’t get to you, they will do their ut­most to hurt your fam­ily to get to you.

“They [gang­sters] want me to re­turn to that life, but I don’t want to live that life any­more.

“And one can’t blame the chil­dren – where must they play? There are no fa­cil­i­ties, they can’t even play in the yards be­cause there’s no space.

“And what makes it worse is peo­ple are too afraid to talk be­cause once you talk, be­lieve me that gang­ster is go­ing to hear.

“Also, when it comes to turn­ing their lives around, some gang­sters have the ex­cuse they are not work­ing – jobs are so scarce and so on.

“But give them a job, they are not go­ing to last for long and you know why?

“Be­cause the money they make by ped­dling drugs per day is what some of them would be paid for a month’s job if they were em­ployed.

“It’s the greed for money and power and the fear they in­still within the peo­ple that mo­ti­vate gang­sters.

“They like to feel they are strong, they are un­touch­able and they are im­mor­tal.”

Pho­to­graph: SIYABONGA SE­SANT Pho­to­graphs: EU­GENE COET­ZEE/FREDLIN ADRIAAN

PROOF OF PAST: For­mer gang­ster Bernard Valen­tine, 58, shows off some of his tat­toos COM­MU­NITY UN­DER SIEGE: A woman pushes a pram though a crime scene in Pien­aar Street, He­len­vale, (above) where the body of a man who had been shot five times was found, in 2016 RIGHT: In a pre­vi­ous gang-re­lated in­ci­dent, po­lice re­spond af­ter a young man was gunned down only me­tres away from his home in He­len­vale

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