EXCLUSIVE: Underworld, tobacco and drug war sparks shootings and protests
Johannesburg and Cape Town – A violent underworld war has broken out between three distinct groups, one from Johannesburg and two from Cape Town, which in the past few weeks has seen a rising body count in both cities, service delivery protests, looting and fears that there is more to come.
News24 understands that multiple takeovers are underway in the multi-billion rand industries of illegal cigarette, drug and nightclub protection rackets, and that traditional smuggling routes between the two cities are being shifted.
In the past month, a public takeover of the notorious nightclub security scene in Cape Town has taken place.
Some bouncers are said to ensure clubs are protected from opposing gangs and keep opposing drug dealers out.
For years the nightclub scene was run by controversial businessmen, including Mark Lifman and Andre Naude, who previously ran nightclub security operation Specialised Protection Services, which covered the majority of establishments in the Western Cape.
A new group said to be run by a new name, Nafiz Modack, is trying to hijack this more established grouping.
Modack is a businessman who was previously linked to an alleged scam involving luxury cars.
This new group is said to have recruited muscle from areas including Delft, as well as importing strongmen from countries in Eastern Europe.
News24 initially reported that Modack had organised for a group of Russian men to be brought into the country following the relaxation of a visa regulation between the two countries.
Modack himself had said he had.
But the Russian Embassy denied this.
It is understood that a Ukrainian man is among those backing Modack.
At least six people in recent weeks have been murdered in Cape Town in the underworld war.
Countless others, including alleged Sexy Boys gang leader Jerome "Donkie" Booysen, as well as innocent club patrons hit by stray bullets, have been wounded.
The Sexy Boys are a street gang, a faction of the prison’s 26s gang.
The recent violent incidents include:
- Two patrons being shot at the upmarket Café Caprice on April 17.
- Alleged gang boss Mayon McKenna, 40, and another man, 23, being gunned down in Ravensmead. They were shot in the head and died at the scene. McKenna was said to be involved in the drug trade, as well as offering some protection. He was said to be a member of the 26s gang.
- Eleven people being wounded and two killed in a drive-by shooting in Elsies River.
- A woman being wounded by a stray bullet in a popular Loop Street nightclub.
- At the beginning of April, Fancy Boys gang leader Shamiel Eyssen, 45, was gunned down in Bishop Lavis. The murder allegedly lifted the lid on the illicit cigarette trade as Eyssen was owed money in a major cigarette deal.
- Booysen being shot in the neck while on his way to see Deon Williams, also known as Igor, and who was an associate of McKenna’s. After Williams was shot, Booysen had been on his way to the scene when he too was shot. Four other people were wounded in shootings within hours of each other on the same day as the Booysen attack.
Illicit tobacco and drugs
News24 has learnt from numerous inside sources that the Cape Town takeover originated from Johannesburg gangsters who have been setting up a double network in the illegal tobacco and drugs trade.
The group has been establishing themselves in Johannesburg since 2013 when notorious Czech criminal Radovan Krejcir was arrested, leaving open the kingpin position in South Africa’s mafia underworld.
Numerous sources within the cigarette, gang and intelligence communities, who have asked to remain anonymous, have explained to News24 what has happened since then in the ever-shifting underworld.
Instead of a violent battle for control of the City of Gold, the illicit tobacco traders who had long ago infiltrated politicians, intelligence and police communities, quietly gained the upper hand and conducted deals securing relationships with their drug-smuggling counterparts.
This is nothing new both globally and locally in the world of organised crime, with the most successful criminals having police and politicians on their side.
Krejcir was linked to crime intelligence head Joey Mabasa, as well as Hawks and crime intelligence officers who were charged and appeared with him in the dock in many of the cases against him.
Strengthened power, extended reach
These state and gang links have cropped up in the Western Cape takeover where it is believed the shift in nightclub security has been orchestrated by police and informants to try and take down established underworld players.
The State Security Agency (SSA) has denied this, however the rumours of links to police, the Hawks and crime intelligence have persisted.
Last week Thursday, News24 witnessed Modack meeting with Northern Cape police commissioner Risimati Shivuri in an upmarket Cape Town hotel.
It was not clear what the two had been discussing.
Major-General Sally de Beer, on behalf of police, said: "The placement of the Provincial Commissioner: Northern Cape under unlawful surveillance by those with ulterior motives is strongly condemned."
Her response said the police would not be commenting on Shivuri's "movements and meetings" through the media.
But it was not just Krejcir’s downfall that made illegal cigarette barons stronger.
In 2014, when rogue unit allegations rocked SARS, dissolving their successful investigations unit which had been looking into the tobacco industry, the illicit cigarette traders gained more power.
Numerous sources have told News24 that the illicit cigarette trade, an industry where cash is easy to come by and there are few repercussions if caught, has been so successful in the past three years that the owners of some of the companies have diversified into the drug trade and have been recruiting well-known gangsters to offer them protection.
A muscle recruitment drive in the past few months, from areas such as Eldorado Park and Westbury, has led to shootings in those areas which have not been as publicly reported on as the shootings in Cape Town.
The established Cape Town gangs were also represented in these areas, adding to the turmoil.
"In areas like Westbury and Riverlea there have been a number of shootings. Between Monday and Friday last week there were at least 17," said one source.
Sophiatown police spokesperson Warrant Officer Jerbes De Bruyn confirmed to News24 that there has been a rise in shootings in the area related to gang violence in the last few weeks, but he could not give any numbers.
"There have been quite a number of people shot and killed," De Bruyn said.
A source said that "service delivery" protests presently rocking Eldorado Park, which have seen shops burnt and looted, have been fed by this underworld war.
"About five percent of this protest is actually about service delivery complaints. It is essentially a show of force in this gang war," the source said.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula made reference to this saying that the leaders of the protests were well-known drug dealers whom he said were seeking to undermine the rule of law in the country.
One of the first deaths in the cigarette gang takeover was that of Raymond "Razor" Barras, a debt collector and muscle car overhauler, who was shot outside his home in Kensington.
It is alleged that he was a small time player in the cigarette trade, receiving a few containers to sell, but a rumour emerged that he was working with the police and he was killed.
It turned out not to be true, but by then it was too late.
While these cigarette traders have been successful over most of the country, the one area they had not successfully infiltrated, because of the established gang networks, has been the Western Cape.
"They are [flush] with cash and decided to increase their distribution network by trying to take over the drug and illegal cigarette market in Cape Town," said one source with knowledge of the industry.
They did this by cutting the prices of drugs and cigarettes in the Western Cape and getting the traditionally close 26s and 28s gangs to start fighting each other.
"It’s the age old divide and conquer strategy," another source said.
Established gang leaders in the Western Cape started fighting back, trying to protect their cigarette and drug interests.
But in doing so, they took their eyes off their other money spinner – their protection rackets.
Modack and his group are said to have seen the opportunity and moved in.
This means there are three groupings involved. There are the illegal cigarette and drug players from Johannesburg, the established Cape Town gang bosses and the new group from Cape Town, all trying to wrestle for control of drugs, cigarettes and nightclub protection in the two provinces.
As part of the war, drugs are being flooded into the market in quantities never seen before.
Heroin, in particular, is being imported, News24 has been told.
But be warned, sources have cautioned. Word on the ground is that the Cape Town gangs are planning a revenge attack on the Johannesburg group and plans are afoot for them to make their way north and take over Johannesburg’s underworld.
"Stand by; bodies are about to pile up."
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