The Cape Flats is notorious for its bands of organised gangs that can be found, literally, on almost every street corner. Consisting mainly of not-too-well educated young men, these gangs represent a sub-culture which has its own rules and code of conduct.
The activities of gangs have become increasingly violent over the years, to the extent that gang members are often prosecuted for major crimes, including murder, rape, armed robbery etc. However, gangs were not always as violent as they are nowadays.
In earlier days, gangs functioned as a means of providing a sense of belonging and identification. Young, and sometimes, not-so-young men tended to group together around a particular activity, mainly hawking (selling fruit and vegetables on the street corner) or a shebeen. As these clusters grew, there was a tendency towards the staking out of turf and protecting what was considered to be your turf- in this sense not dissimilar to the American gangs. Some gang members were also involved in criminal activities such as house-breaking and robbery, but this was mainly to secure money to purchase dagga (marijuana).
The mid-eighties saw a phenomenal growth in not only the number of gangs, but also the range of criminal activities that the gangs were involved in. With names like Mongrels, Scorpions, Laughing Boys, Young Americans, Nice Time Kids etc, clashes between gangs became increasingly frequent and violent, often leading to deaths and revenge murders. An expert on gangs argues that the reason for this massive increase in gang activity, was that the South African Police was too busy hounding anti-apartheid activists, often using gangsters as informers, to control their growth. Gangs became consolidated, with smaller ones being incorporated into the bigger ones. It is now argued that there are two gang syndicates which operate on the Cape Flats, and that all the gangs are in one way or the other, part of these syndicates.
Gang activity now revolve mainly around the running of the drug racket on the Cape Flats, and gangsters are becoming increasingly daring- as has been displayed during the recent events around the anti-gang and drug organisation- People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD).
The question is, given the high stakes involved- the fact that the drug racket is worth millions- and the highly organised nature of the gangs, whether it is possible for the police to effectively put an end to gang activity. At the moment, the answer appears to be that it is not possible. However, six years ago, very few of us would have predicted that South Africa would have achieved what it has, so maybe there is hope out there.