Aishah Cassiem @Aishah_Cassiem
Why are gangsters recruiting young children and how are they succeeding in it? These were the questions raised by concerned residents of Manenberg and Hanover Park recently.
With hundreds of young people being lured into gangsterism, or innocently dying in crossfire in the area, residents continue to call for more intervention to stop the activity.
Members of Ceasefire SA, a gang intervention programme in Hanover Park and Manenberg, spoke to People’s Post to explain how gangs operate and why there has been an increase in recruitment.
Pastor Craven Engel, Ceasefire coordinator, said Hanover Park has four mainline gangs and about nine buffer groups who, with permission from leading gangs, have their own names. These totals are similar in Manenberg where there are six mainline gangs in the area.
Looking at how gangs manage to recruit youngsters, Engel explained, the gangs offer the youth drugs, clothing and safety from the hostility in the area, as well as a sense of belonging that satisfies the conformity patterns in their brains.
“With more members in the group, [the gang] can increase the turf. [They can] branch out to where they have members and then start drug outlets there. It’s also a sense of belonging for the new members to accept the pattern within the community.
“Gangs recruit to strengthen their groups, which gives them more power, more users and more shooters. And when they need to pay debts to other gangs concerning blood they would sacrifice the latest recruits as buffers,” he explained.
An ex-gang member, who does not want to be named for safety reasons, says when gangs have internal conflicts they must “pick up that blood” (repay their debt) by shooting someone from a rival gang to make amends. If the gang has no issues with a rival gang, the members may settle the dispute by shooting a Law Enforcement or police or correctional services officer on the gang’s payroll.
Often, new recruits will think they are being sent to kill an opposition gang member, but they are being set up and the opposition gang is prepared for the attack. These may look like gang incidents to outsiders, he says, but are in fact a way of settling an internal score.
“If it’s external gang fights then [the gang members] shoot whoever they can get to square up issues of loss of blood,” he adds.
Earlier this month, Manenberg police came under attack during an operation combating gang violence in the area. Police on duty were stoned by residents in the community during the arrest of a 26-year-old suspect found in possession of drugs and who is believed to be a wanted suspect in an attempted rape case (“Police come under attack”, Peoples Post, 14 August).
Responding to the issue, Engel, a witness to the incident said: “My opinion is that the law must run its course for once, because if you have broken the law you must face the consequences of your deeds. Police fired live rounds, but the perpetrators were arrested – who are members of groups and the fans of the gang who interfered with the police on the day.”
He urged parents to stand with the police and to continue joining support groups with the aim of being educated on how gangs operate, so that they (parents) can look out for the possible signs of when their children are involved in gangs.
“Parents must be part of the holistic community mobilisation strategies; especially the education and faith-based sectors for whom gangs have great respect. They must look at challenging their own behaviour to create a conducive space in their homes and spend more quality time with their children.
“Parents must shift their paradigm with their kids and go to places outside of their areas to give youth a better understanding of life outside of high-risk places and for youth to think out of the box and dream of a better life for themselves.”
He strongly believes the government should also remove politics from development programmes they offer and should sow more funds into relevant and credible organisations in gang-infested communities.
“They (government) should stop politics between the Metro Police and [the police], as they are using the violence in the Western Cape to challenge one another, and the community is suffering in the end.
“They should also clean up corruption within Law Enforcement agencies where weapons and dockets are sold, and where they are taking stipends from gangs for information on raids.”
Ceasefire has worked for seven years with the City of Cape Town to design programmes using real time data and Shot Spotter supported by violence interrupters on the ground.
These programmes maintain the database of gunfire audio available and provide an immediate review of gunshot alerts, which have proved to be able to reduce violence scientifically through this system.
“It was accepted as a best practice by the University of Chicago and from other universities abroad. But all the research and effort was just wiped off the table because the local politicians did not approve of the programme.
“For years the cry went out to help with the scourge of violence. Finally we came up with a working solution and the politicians (City) ignored it for personal reasons, and today still, after nine months of pulling the plug, they have no answers for us.”
JP Smith, Mayco member for safety, security and social services says: “The City is currently not funding the Ceasefire programme in Hanover Park. The contract came to an end in September 2017 and the City is currently reviewing the implementation of the Social Crime Prevention strategy,” he explains.
“The Ceasefire programme worked well with Shot Spotter and a significant amount of data has been generated which has proven to be useful to Law Enforcement agencies in getting a better understanding of community safety and gang-related violence as well as effective intelligence gathering.”
When asked why such a programme was ended in the community, Smith added the City remains committed to looking at best practice crime prevention programmes to improve community safety.
Ceasefire currently still has the realtime data devices operational to provide communities with safety tips in respect of the violence in the area, especially at schools.