Engaging differently with Cape Flats gangsterism – Tony Weaver

The answer to a two-century-old quandary that the digital revolution, political corruption and persistent inequity have turbo-boosted is radical and counter-intuitive. We’re talking a potential solution to Cape Flats gangsterism suggested by veteran journalist and Man Friday columnist, Tony Weaver. It’s one I know my disruptive former SA Medical Journal Editor-Emeritus, Professor JP van Niekerk, would probably approve of, taking on as he does the anti-marijuana lobby with gusto, reason and logic. Simply unban/decriminalise the drugs. Render them price-less; in other words, reduce their value and thus the damage they do, by taking control of the game. Right now, the perfect storm outlined above is wreaking havoc in Cape Flats communities of which the gangster culture is an inalienable part. This is not something you treat symptomatically, like injecting the SANDF onto the Flats. Rather, carrot and stick. Unban drugs, create on-site jobs, inflict harsh penalties for any gun-related crime. Anything else is sticking plaster. Read on to absorb a fascinating, humane argument. So far not much has changed the status quo. In fact, the current army deployment accentuates the old Cape Flats slang phrase, creatively moulded to illustrate collective prejudice; “hoe sien tsjy vir my dan?” (how do you see me, then?”) First published in Die Burger. – Chris Bateman

Sending in the army is like kissing the Cape Flats better with a Band Aid strip

By Tony Weaver*

This column is about a different kind of wildlife, and a different kind of environmental destruction – the environmental destruction of living in gangster hell on the Cape Flats surrounded by the wildlife in the gangs.

The gangs have been around for over 200 years. Jonny Steinberg, in his seminal book, The Number, writes that the legend of the Number Gangs goes back to possibly 1812, and two outlaws called Nongoloza and Kilikijan. Nongoloza’s followers become the 28s, Kilikijan’s the 27s. Prison society in the Western Cape today is built on the Numbers.

The gangs became even more entrenched under apartheid, as entire communities were forcibly removed to the bleakness of the Cape Flats.

But the dynamic has changed: crime is now a transnational enterprise, and the ordinary gangsters of the Cape Flats are just foot soldiers of powerful criminal syndicates that deal in drugs, guns, cigarettes, wildlife products like abalone, rhino horn, ivory, pangolins and timber, and every other illicit product under the sun.

As Mark Shaw and Simone Haysom of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime wrote, “the current surge in violence owes itself to both factors that arise inside the community and to those pushed upon it by the city’s illicit connections to the global economy. It is this combination of internal and external factors which intersect to drive high levels of violence, giving the situation echoes of Central American carnage.”

Battles for territorial control, and an alienated youth with staggering levels of unemployment all feed into this, and Cape Town is at the centre of a “perfect storm” of drugs, guns, gangs and external connections, and old hierarchies have broken down.

Corruption and State Capture mean that “after a disastrous decade for the criminal justice system, we have organised criminal networks that are more nationally (and internationally) connected than they have ever been before… The flow of guns and drugs that have enabled the current violence has entered communities from outside, due to corruption.”

So how the hell do we solve this problem? Sending the army in is just kissing it better with a Band Aid strip.

I have no background in criminology, but it seems a no-brainer to make gun crime very expensive: legislate mandatory life sentences for any crime involving an illegal firearm, whether fired or not, with no parole for 20 years.

Our communities are awash with crystal meth(tik), cocaine, heroin and a variety of other drugs, and mixtures.

So completely decriminalise drug use. Make it legal to smoke tik, shoot heroin, whatever takes your fancy. Drug dealing or trafficking stays a serious criminal offence.

But do it in an organised way, like Portugal, where drug crime has been slashed. Make the state the only licensed dealer. Make the drugs dirt cheap – or give them away.

Set up state clinics where only the best quality drugs are available, with clean needles. Remove the stigma around drug use and provide counselling.

Destroy the drug market. Remove the main source of income for the crime syndicates.

That, and removing illegal guns, would be a good first step to rebuilding our communities and bringing peace to the Cape Flats.

  • Tony Weaver is a freelance photo-journalist and editor. You can contact him at [email protected].